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Louis Davidson

Do you care where an idea comes from?

Ok, so you are the lead ______________ for your company.  The big cheese, the super duper guy who knows everything…right?  So then some newbie comes up with an idea that might solve a problem you have been dealing with for a few days/weeks/months/whatever.  What do you do?

A. Ignore his idea and use your own, genetically superior idea

B. Ignore where the idea came from, pretend it is your own.

C. Accept the answer, give the newbie credit, put it in your toolbox so next time you will know it too

If you didn’t answer C, I am glad we aren’t coworkers.

Frankly any other answer blows my mind. Clearly, the people who hire a person on the top of their field will know more than most people. And it should be expected that a person 15 years of experience with some topic/product will know more than people with 1 or 2. Everyone has access to the same search engines, so they can find new ideas and act upon them. Ideally there is a review process where people that have the life experience do much of the reviewing, but still that usually goes both ways.  Reviewing ideas before executing them should be done even if it is the companies chief smarty pants, if for no other reason that when people of lesser experience try to validate an “experts” ideas (or hopefully disprove the expert and win some cool points,) the worst that can happen is that someone learns something new.  The best thing that can happen is a disaster is averted. And that can’t be a bad thing, right?

But going back to the “expert” role.  Too often being saddled with the moniker “expert” gets mistaken for “perfect.”  Unless I suddenly become perfect, and man, that ain’t happening any time soon, everyone make mistakes. In fact, I know that one of the things I am most proud of is my complete lack of competitive pride. (I am the best, baby!)  To me, the key is how the person who is saddled with the title expert handles it. All to often, the gut reaction is A. “Well, you can’t be right. My idea is clearly better as it was formed from my superior intellect.” This might not be that horrible, like if the decision was where to eat lunch, but if you were the engineer who designed the Titanic, well, not good. The answer B is just evil.

Who cares if there are 2 experts at your company? Or on the planet? Competition should drive you to work harder to be better, with the final goal being everyone being better…not to harm others…

Published Wednesday, April 29, 2009 12:30 AM by drsql
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Dan Shargel said:

I agree completely and we need a lot more "C" people in the world.  If a problem I'm having can be solved I don't care where it comes from as long as it's a good solution and it works.

I'm also not a big fan of the "guru" moniker.  Makes me cringe.

April 29, 2009 12:36 AM

Brent Ozar said:

Totally agreed.  No matter what I'm doing, I think of myself as a carpenter: I didn't invent most of the stuff in my toolbox, but I know how to use the tools.  If somebody brings me a new tool, it goes into the box, and sooner or later I'll figure out how to use it.  Expert is a different job than inventor.

April 29, 2009 9:04 AM

RickHeiges said:

Excellent Point...  In a previous life (approx 15 yrs ago), I was working on a project to produce laser printed paychecks because the ones being produced by the old impact lineprinter were barely legible.  Our AP Checks were printed crisp and clean on a laser printer with magnetic ink too.  THese were clearly superior.  A colleague of mine had been working with me on the project for a couple of weeks and we were getting discouraged because the time it took to print these checks was way too long (although they looked great).  A new person froma recent merger who was barely into IT was working in the general vicinity of us when he asked a fundamental question.  That question was "Why do they NEED to be printed on the laser printer?".  The answer was "That is what we were assigned to do.".  We went back to the business owner and did some research.  it turned out that the forms that we were using for paychecks was using the fourth "layer" for the employee copy.  We were simply able to purchase a different form stock that used the second layer for the paycheck/advice to go to the employee.  This corrected the real business problem of unreadable paychecks.  If it hadn't been for that relatively "green" IT worker, we may have spent a lot more time/money on the wrong solution.  I gave credit to this person, and my manager recognized that I was always open to new ways of doing things.  A second point that I want to make from this is that the "newer" way isn't always "better".

April 29, 2009 9:24 AM

Stuart Ainsworth said:

One of the things I like about you, Louis, is that you appreciate the fact that knowledge is meant to be shared.  I think you're a good teacher (and that's the highest compliment I can pay; higher even than expert) because you encourage people to ask questions, and questions ultimately lead to answers (and those answers may be different than the ones you came up with).

April 29, 2009 10:22 AM

MikeWalsh said:

I completely disagree with your post. You obviously don't know what you are talking about. I wholeheartedly reject your ideas.

Instead, I propose that we actually listen to the ideas of others, hear them out and give credit if we use their ideas. It's the only way to work, we shouldn't be striving for recognition and pride but instead for getting the job done, bringing others up and in turn bringing the organization up.

I am glad I thought of this.


April 29, 2009 10:38 AM

a.m. said:

So are you going to share what situation prompted this post?

April 29, 2009 12:23 PM

drsql said:

Hehe, no.  I spent a good deal of time cleansing the story and making it generic enough...part of the downside of being a full-time employment :)

April 29, 2009 12:56 PM

a.m. said:

Well the people who behave in the way you describe are generally narcissistic enough that they wouldn't recognize themselves in a story anyway :-)

April 29, 2009 1:51 PM

Jared Ko said:

I think choosing option C is easy for most people. The hard part is being the lead or the guru and giving somebody enough information for them to solve their own problem.

At the end of they day, they take credit for solving the issue even though you gave them everything they needed to solve it.

I'm happy to cite original blogs, books, etc when I borrow an idea. It stings a bit when people forget the idea came from me, though.

April 29, 2009 3:11 PM

Paul White said:

It is easy to choose 'C' when presented in a blog entry - of course that's what we would all do! :c)

In reality, it is sometimes a lot tougher to 'do the right thing' all the time.  We are all human - some of us have bad days and good days, and not everyone is a 'nice' all the time as their forum posts might lead you to

Some people are also destined to never work well together.  It happens.

To say that "any other answer blows your mind" is uncharitable.  You are thinking with your logical brain.  Your emotional reaction to a good suggestion by someone who you really don't like or who you have some sort of 'history' with might be different.

It's not a case of being 'professional' of whatever; I agree with every word in theory - but life aint like that.  We have to be realistic, whilst striving to be slightly better people tomorrow than we are today.

If you see what I mean.


April 30, 2009 7:31 AM

Mike C said:

Oh come on Doc, tell us who made you mad :)

May 2, 2009 11:19 PM

Ankith said:


Unfortunately I am in that position where in my ideas are never accepted even through they are good. It seems to me that the people up there are more worried about that me taking their position.

Atleast I am glad that the SQL world does not see it that way outside. Talent is being given due credit.

June 29, 2009 6:12 PM

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