Experts, Beginners and Long Term Thinking

“We said at the outset that the degree of difficulty is high and success is going to require an expert knowledge, a beginners mind and a long-term orientation.”  Amazon founder Jeff Bezos on hiring a new CEO to run a company designed to disrupt (improve health care delivery) in America.

Berkshire Hathaway, JP Morgan Chase and Amazon are teaming up to try and solve what has been an intractable problem: delivering high quality health care at an affordable price.
While I wouldn’t bet against Warren Buffett, Jamie Dimon and Bezos, the three business titans trying to solve health care I’m more intrigued by Bezos’ quote.

And since we often write about leadership in this blog, I thought we would look at Bezos’ thoughts through the prism of public leadership.
With local and state elections looming it’s a good time to consider the jobs that are up for grabs: Mayor of Boca Raton, Council Seats in Boca, County Commission, Governor, Senator.
It’s fair to say that the degree of difficulty is high for all of these jobs.

Difficult… but not impossible.
These jobs and others do require some subject area expertise.

I was amazed at the amount of work and vast amount of subject matter we dealt with on the Delray Beach City Commission. Municipal finance, budgets, pensions, labor union contracts, public safety, race relations, urban planning, infrastructure, parks design, site plans, neighborhood revitalization, housing policy and on and on and on it went.

It would have helped to have an “expert knowledge” but absent that you learn to rely on city staff and your own reading and studying. Still, you can’t master it all.
To follow Bezos’ quote, the lack of expert knowledge gives you a beginners mind which is so important. But only if that mind is open to new ideas.
A beginners mind allows you to view issues differently— hopefully without bias and hopefully creatively.

I just read a fine new book entitled  “Unsafe Thinking” which urges us to think differently, shed biases and lead.
Bezos touches on the book’s  themes with his prescient quote.

His final point: a long term orientation. How important this is!
Isn’t that what’s missing on the national scene which seems to always be about the next election cycle?

Progress gets lost when long term thinking loses out to short termism.
When safe thinking crowds out risk, vision and responsibility to the future we all lose.

I don’t know if Dr. Atul Gawande–the new CEO– will succeed in his new role trying to fix health care. But when Bezos says he is the perfect blend of expert, beginners mind and long term orientation I know he has a chance.

And if any of the candidates for the offices we will vote on August 28 possesses those traits…well…that would be something. That would really be something.

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