Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Imposter Superpower

Success and insecurity go hand in hand.  The most successful people in the world know that they're not the foremost experts in the thing that made them successful.  When you are great at what you do, deep inside you know you're not "the best" -- and you join the rest of the world's foremost CEOs, authors, thinkers and high achievers in a secret shameful belief:  You are an imposter, have leapfrogged far more qualified people by tricking the world into believing you earned or deserve your success.

The imposter syndrome is an illusion, an artifact of perhaps the most important and widespread erroneous assumption humans have.

We assume that expertise is good.  We believe that the more we know about something, the better we are able to do it.  We consider experience, knowledge and mastery the holy grail of success.

However we phrase it, the assumption that expertise is the key to reaching the top of our fields is simply wrong.

As a species, our timing sucks.  We are born with unbounded creativity, unaware even that horizons exist, much less that we should try to reach them.  Unfortunately, we are also born without any of the tools we need to turn creativity into progress.  As we gather the expertise and education necessary to implement our dreams, we internalize generations of flawed assumptions, harmful rules, and unnecessary limitations.  By the time we have the tools we need to act on our creativity, our creativity is sitting, crushed, in the corner of our lives.

The price of expertise is creativity -- but there is a sweet spot.  Breakthroughs -- world changing, life changing, massive innovations -- require that we know enough to know what is possible, but we not internalize what is thought by "experts" to be impossible.

A little knowledge is not a dangerous thing.  It is an empowering thing.

The world's most prolific inventors normally made their most important breakthroughs outside of their field of study (if they even had a field of study).  They learn enough to dream of possible solutions, but not such much that those dreams are ignored because they conflict with what we "know" to be impossible.

I have more than 100 issued patents, and I'm proud to say that I am far from the most educated and knowledge person in any of the fields of my inventions.  I am an imposter.  In fact, I am a super imposter.  I'm super-imposter-man, and I do it on purpose, because embracing innovation means embracing breakthroughs that the non-imposters "know" to be impossible.

I'm not talking about faking it completely -- but innovators never fake it.  We innovate because we love limitless horizons.  We learn because we need to know enough to innovate.  We stop learning when people start to teach us what we can't do.

The experts who think they are staying in their intellectual comfort zone are really floating in a creative dead zone.  Comfort means a lack of risk, a complacency driven by knowledge of the limits.  Nobody has ever won a race by staying in their comfort zone, and you are no different.

Let's stop calling it the "imposter syndrome" and start calling it what it really is: The power to innovate in somebody else's field.  The Imposter Superpower.

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