The biggest risk to an evolving system is that you become bogged down by experts from a world that no longer exists. The more evolution you have, the more you should expect that expertise has a shelf life.
That’s always been the case and will always be. It’s just hard to accept because people need experts to trust and experts want to hold onto beliefs that were hard-fought to learn.
But most things evolve, and evolve faster than people’s beliefs. It’s a tricky thing that leads to a long history of older generations whose success came from understanding the new rules of their era not recognizing that the rules may have changed again.
Investor Dean Williams once said, “Expertise is great, but it has a bad side effect. It tends to create an inability to accept new ideas.” If you appreciate how much the world evolves you can appreciate how important that advice can be.
Henry Ford was a tinkerer. He revolutionized the factory floor by letting his workers experiment, trying anything they could think of to make production more efficient.
There was just one rule, a quirk that seemed crazy but was vital to the company’s success: No one could keep a record of the factory experiments that were tried and failed.
Ford wrote in his book My Life and Work:
I am not particularly anxious for the men to remember what someone else has tried to do in the past, for then we might quickly accumulate far too many things that could not be done.That is one of the troubles with extensive records. If you keep on recording all of your failures you will shortly have a list showing that there is nothing left for you to try – whereas it by no means follows because one man has failed in a certain method that another man will not succeed.
That was Ford’s experience. “We get some of our best results from letting fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”
Hardly a week passes without some improvement being made somewhere in machine or process, and sometimes this is made in defiance of what is called “the best shop practice.”They told us we could not cast gray iron by our endless chain method and I believe there is a record of failures. But we are doing it. The man who carried through our work either did not know or paid no attention to the previous figures … a record of failures – particularly if it is a dignified and well-authenticated record – deters a young man from trying … I cannot discover that any one knows enough about anything on this earth definitely to say what is and what is not possible.
The important thing is that when something that previously didn’t work suddenly does, it doesn’t necessarily mean the people who tried it first were wrong. It usually means other parts of the system have evolved in a way that allows what was once impossible to now become practical.
Marc Andreessen explained how this has worked in tech: “All of the ideas that people had in the 1990s were basically all correct. They were just early.”
The infrastructure necessary to make most tech businesses work didn’t exist in the 1990s. But it does exist today.
So almost every business plan that was mocked for being a ridiculous idea that failed is now, 20 years later, a viable industry.