Here's an experiment for career veterans: remember back to your first job. While you may have felt nervous as a newbie for not knowing the ropes yet, can you also recall how hungry you were to learn, grow, and develop professional skills for the first time?
This rookie mentality that kept you open to learning carried certain advantages over "knowing it all." Liz Wiseman dubs how we think and act when we're aware that we're trying something out for the first time "rookie smarts"--and she details the importance of this way of approaching work in her new book by the same name.
In Rookie Smarts, Wiseman (who is also author of the New York Times' bestseller Multipliers) reveals through research that thinking like a rookie brings benefits to both individuals and companies. She also shares how anyone, even those who have been in their jobs for decades, can cultivate and maintain that fresh first-job mindset to innovate and overcome challenges.
To give you a taste of Wiseman's philosophy, here are four reasons why you should never stop thinking like a rookie:
Rookies are unencumbered by preconceived notions. In Wiseman's research, she studied 400 workplace scenarios to compare how well rookies stack up to veterans in handling various types of projects. By doing so, she identified four distinct "smart modes" and mindsets that characterize rookie smarts.
The first smart mode is termed "backpacker," and is characterized by being unencumbered by the preconceived notions about how things work that can develop after you've gained extensive experience in your job. Therefore, rookies are better able than those who have entered the "veteran comfort zone" to explore new possibilities, rather than getting bogged down in more rigid views formed from past experience.
Rookies ask questions and seek new information from their networks. Since rookies know that they don't have all the answers, they're comfortable reaching out to others for help. Wiseman terms this smart mode "hunter-gatherer," because workplace newcomers start out as alert and seeking, which allows them to confidently tap networks of experts to find answers and advice.
Wiseman's study discovered that rookies are four times more likely to request help than their more experienced colleagues--and just as important, 50 percent more likely to listen to the answers they receive. Rookies were also found to be 40 percent more likely than veterans to seek expertise. Plus, their ability to effectively network results in connecting with five times as many contacts. In a recent article in Harvard Business Review, Wiseman summed up the benefits of enlisting rookies for jobs that require gaining access to more knowledge: "With one expert, you'll get one expert; with a newcomer, you get access to many more."
Rookies are cautious yet quick. The third smart mode, "firewalker," refers to the rookie mindset of being both initially cautious and able to hustle. Since the entire job presents new terrain to rookies, they take steps that are small and calculated--yet like a firewalker, feel urgency to move as quickly as possible once they have enough information.
In her study, Wiseman found that rookies outpaced veterans in timeliness of output by scoring 60 percent higher than those with more experience. "Newcomers face a steeper learning curve, but, because they're mindful of the gap and want to gain ground, they often deliver results faster," Wiseman said in HBR. She added that because of rookies' sense of urgency, they can be a perfect fit for lean projects.
Rookies are hungry for results and relentless in pursuing innovation. Rookies focus on core needs as they improvise. While they generally keep things simple, they also work relentlessly to push perceived boundaries, leading Wiseman to term the fourth smart mode "pioneer." Eagerly exploring new frontiers, rookies haven't bought into the idea that something might be "impossible," a concept that develops more frequently over time in a position or industry. Their can-do attitude makes rookies exceptionally resourceful as they tackle tough challenges that veterans might not touch.
Also, because of their pioneering tendencies, people who summon their rookie smarts can help companies brainstorm creative ideas, experiment through trial and error, and accelerate innovation. This can be particularly crucial in quickly evolving industries, like science and technology. Research in Labor Economics reports that information is decaying at a rate of 30 percent a year in these industries, rendering much of someone's earlier technical knowledge irrelevant. In fields where innovation is paramount and speed matters, being open to learning may indeed be of even greater value than what you already know--regardless of your age or how high you've climbed in your career.