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Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work

Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work Summary
Management & Leadership and Career & Business

This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: 

Available for: Read online, read in our mobile apps for iPhone/Android and send in PDF/EPUB/MOBI to Amazon Kindle.

ISBN: 978-0062322630

Publisher: Harper Business


If you are an experienced looking professional for renovation, this is a must-read. Is it possible that after decades of experience, you keep your enthusiasm, curiosity, and courage in accepting new challenges? With the right mindset, you can! This book explores how to take advantage of some features and advantages of being a beginner. And most importantly: you can maintain these features even with years of experience!

Learn to retain the intelligence of amateurs and with these practices can encourage curiosity, determination, and flexibility in your employees and you!

If you are an experienced looking professional for renovation, this is a must-read. Is it possible that after decades of experience, you keep your enthusiasm, curiosity, and courage in accepting new challenges? With the right mindset, you can! This book explores how to take advantage of some features and advantages of being a beginner. And most importantly: you can maintain these features even with years of experience!

Learn to retain the intelligence of amateurs and with these practices can encourage curiosity, determination, and flexibility in your employees and you!

Amateurs mentality

In many areas, beginners do better than veterans because they live on the learning curve. They are not afraid to try new things because they do not know what will not work. Fortunately, acting like an amateur has nothing to do with your age or experience in the area. Instead, it all depends on how you think. To use amateur logic, there are four amateur mentalities you can use, and four veteran mindsets that you can avoid.

When more than 400 workplaces were systematically analyzed, it was discovered that amateurs someone who had never done that kind of work before) did far better than veterans (those with field experience). The reasons for this include:

  • Amateurs are usually more innovative and open to different approaches.
  • Amateurs seek advice quickly.
  • Amateurs know they have a lot to learn and work hard to learn fast.
  • Amateurs have no blind spots or assumptions rooted as veterans.

The amateur mentality is characterized by four distinct modes of thought. These modes are:

  • Backpacker
  • Hunter
  • Firewalker
  • Pioneer

Having an amateur's behavior depends on how we think and act when we are aware that we are doing something for the first time. The ways of thinking of amateurs and veterans are not classifications of people, but a mode of behavior. It is feasible to assume amateur mode in one aspect of work and veteran mode in another aspect, simultaneously.

Considering each of the four modes of amateur thought:

The backpacker

Many business managers behave as caregivers. They have a history that protects at all costs. Therefore, they seek to spend their time and energy trying to maintain the status quo. They usually follow the conventional ways and have a defensive look while trying to protect their resources.

Amateurs act much more like backpackers. They have nothing to lose and therefore are open to new possibilities and new ways of doing their tasks. Backpackers explore new terrain with enthusiasm, and when they decide to do something, they act sincerely. Moreover, as they have no reputation to protect, amateurs are keen to pursue new practices that fit well into their work.

So how can we adopt a backpacker's mindset? Some suggestions are:

  • Get into the habit of asking innocent questions - the kind of question only a newbie would ask. Questions that simplify and clarify are ideal. You will have access to new possibilities by asking fundamental questions.
  • Have a clean mentality - and start from scratch. Schools are good at it. They have semester for you to start over. Give you and your team periodic waypoints, where you can start over again by forgetting the past.
  • Give free access to your resources - and see what happens. Also, rebuild your budget from scratch. Ask: "What would I do here if I had no employees? "Renew your thinking by investigating new opportunities and possibilities.

The hunter

The amateurs think and act like hunters who survive their fighters. They realize they are in unfamiliar territory and remain alert and vigilant. Their awareness of their inexperience causes them to learn quickly.

In contrasts, it is easy for an experienced person to get stuck a local mindset. She's seen all that before, and all she has to do is look for the data to confirm what she already knows. This type of person is in a comfortable and accommodating position in the organization.

In the old days, the hunters went out looking for food. If you enter this amateur mode, you are admitting that you do not have the resources or knowledge and need to assess your environment and try to find out what is happening. You also do not care to look for experts and ask for help. You will not have much to lose, so seek and value knowledge. Amateurs easily mobilize the collective thinking of crowds because they are vulnerable. The more you can change your perspectives and learn from others, the better off you will be as an amateur.

To act like a hunter:

  • Transport yourself mentally to when you were a complete beginner - and remember how you felt, what you did and how you approached the challenges. Keep acting like a newbie.
  • Multiply your knowledge - build a network of relationships that you can access for advice. Try to keep four or five experts on your network and ask lots of questions. Look for useful patterns.
  • Try reverse mentoring - invite a junior colleague to be your mentor on new approaches and new technologies.
  • Get used to talking to strangers - you never know what an injection of novelty can bring you. Choose people who think differently from you and learn from them.
  • Make a map - map out who the key players in your industry are, what their rules are, and what they value. And think about who can be your ally to generate more value for your customers.
  • Do somebody else's task - switch tasks with someone for a day and see what you can learn. If feasible, ask a colleague from another department to change assignments for a couple of weeks. This will bring you new insights and ideas.


Walking on fire is an ancient ritual, but it is also a demonstration of the laws of physics. A good firewalker never stops moving - he dances through the embers quickly, so his feet do not stay too long in contact with the hot embers. Good amateurs are like that too - they do not know what they're doing, so they act boldly and move quickly as they prepare to make quick adjustments when necessary.

People with experience act as marathoners. Highly experienced professionals have years of positive feedback on the quality of their jobs, so they stay and work steadily at a comfortable pace. Veterans know they've been at it for a long time, so they have the confidence to take big strides. It is common for veterans to assume they are doing a good job, so do not bother checking this with your customers.

To act as a firewalker:

  • Make a habit of taking small, calculated steps - start with what you are good at, and take small steps in the direction you want. Do different things and change if you have to. If they do not work, it will be easy to go back and change direction. Amateurs take small, well-thought-out risks.
  • Deliver quickly - so you can gauge the results you are delivering to the people you care about. In practice, amateurs carefully await an opportunity to deliver. Starting small and then growing up is their secret to fame. That's the essence of lean methodology too: try it, get feedback, make improvements, learn and keep repeating it.
  • Actively seek feedback and coaching - and use that information to learn. Amateurs ask for advice for everyone. This makes them learn quickly while they work hard. Feedback is very useful for converting raw information into intelligence.
  • Create a safe space for experimentation - discovering which aspects of your work should be done to perfection and which tasks are in areas where failure does not get in the way too much. So you use this second option as a lab to try new ideas without harming the stakeholders. Take some risks in a series of small, calculated steps.
  • Be prepared to get your hands dirty - get close to your customers, stakeholders, and employees.

The pioneer

Amateurs are often pioneers. They build paths in new territories every day, entering new fields and trying new things. Amateurs know that they have less experience and need to work hard to compensate for this disadvantage.

People with experience are more accommodated, enter their comfort zones and stay there indefinitely. Those in business rely on what is available and follow established procedures all the time. They are not worried about finding new and better ways to do things. Instead, they fall into the old saying "the way we do things around here."

To act like an amateur, you need to get used to living on the edge, rather than getting used to mediocrity. Pioneers build new tools and structures, and newbies do the same thing. You need to figure things out for yourself, and you will be able to get where you want to go.

Besides, the pioneers do not have scheduled hours. They do not drop their tools at 5:00 p.m. and leave. Instead, they work urgently and are relentless. This is a new aspect of the amateur mindset. You need to face big gaps in your knowledge and skills and work hard to be successful as an amateur.

To build a pioneering mindset and position yourself in your zone of discomfort you can:

  • If Disqualify - Look for a job for which you are not currently qualified. Instead of using your strengths, get a job you will be forced to learn. Arrange a job in a new area or take on a larger role in your organization. This will force you out of your comfort zone.
  • Be a "specialist in half" in some area - in other words, see how fast you can get halfway down the learning curve of some different area. Learn the basics quickly and discover the latest developments in the area.
  • Look for a problem in your career - stick with it and let the problem take you to a new learning environment. Find out what's happening and find new solutions. This will renew you and force you to act like an amateur.
  • Venture Yourself - Raise up your sleeves and start building things. It can be tiring to continue forcing yourself to learn new things, but the journey can be very exciting. The amateurs are always pioneers.

Reach success by acting as an amateur

For your company and employees to think and act as newbies, the rules are:

  • Do what you can to get fired
  • Throw away your notes
  • Get out and relate to the amateurs
  • Stop being a leader to be an apprentice
  • Get out of your comfort zone
  • Take small steps constantly
  • Create rituals for renewal
  • Rethink how you manage the talents
  • Give Beginners a Voice
  • Let executives be new again

Do what you can hope to be done

One of the best ways to energize your amateur mentality is to get back to work the way you worked when you had nothing to lose. Ask yourself, "What would I do now if I was not afraid of losing my job? "And then do just that.

When you are new, you do not think too much about things. You do not doubt yourself. Instead, you do what seems right. And when you're pushing the limits, you're too busy to worry about it - you're just trying to survive. This is the feeling you want to recapture and use to energize your creativity.

Newbies have a voracious appetite for learning and discovering. They approach their goals in an intentional and fun way. They are eternal students who want to find out everything they can about their field of work. To have that same motivation, you need to decide to become a lifelong beginner.

The four defining characteristics of perpetual amateurs are:

  • Curiosity - To be an eternal amateur, you need to have a desire to learn everything about your area. You need to have a thirst for knowledge and understand what leads you to seek new experiences. Amateurs have an insatiable appetite for learning.
  • Humility - amateurs are humble. To be an eternal amateur, you need to understand that all the people around you can teach many things. You also need to be willing to learn from everyone.
  • Fun - Amateurs have nothing to lose, instead, approach challenges in a fun way. To be an eternal amateur, make your work your game. Be in love with him and enjoy what you do.
  • Deliberation - Amateurs approach their tasks in an intentional way. They are attentive and know what needs to be done, but they are not intimidated.

Throw your notes away

C. K. Prahalad has repeatedly been ranked as one of the best business professors in the world. He passed away in 2010, and at his wake, his wife mentioned that she always worried when he threw out his notes at the beginning of each semester. Once, she took those precious notes from the trash and handed it to her husband. He confirmed that he was throwing them away and said, "My students deserve the best of me, a new and renewed thought every time. "

This is also a way to be an intelligent amateur. Take what you're using now and throw it away. That includes your notes, your well-crafted speeches, your role models for what you do - everything. Throw it all away and start over.

Go out and talk with amateurs

If you want to be an eternal amateur, get into the habit of working with newbies on an ongoing basis. The more time you spend with newbies, the better.

A prime example of this principle was Sergio Marchionne, the 59 year CEO of the Chrysler Group. Responsible for moving the company, the first thing Marchionne did was move his huge CEO office to a room near the design and engineering teams. He spent time on the factory floor and worked on the assembly line.

After doing so, Marchionne dismissed most of the company's managers. Instead, he placed 26 young leaders who took control and responded directly to him. In doing so, Marchionne was not only close to the action but was also energized by those new managers, as well as having reinvigorated the entire company.

The lesson is simple. If you want new ideas, go with the organization's newbies. They are new to the game and will help you see things with other eyes. Spend time and effort to talk to them.

Stop being a leader and become a learner

One of the simplest ways to have an amateur mindset is to change your job title from "leader" to "apprentice." When you move from a leadership position to a position of learner uncertainty, awesome things can happen.

Psychologists talk about a phenomenon called "the confirmation bias." It refers to the fact that we are pro-information that supports our pre-existing beliefs and ignore everything else. The more experts we are, the less chance we get of finding information that proves we are wrong.

To avoid falling into the bias of confirmation, you need to remember that you do not know everything and that you are an apprentice for life. Some ideas for doing this:

  • Keep a list with the title "I do not know" - and share it with everyone. Be honest about what you do not know. This vulnerability will encourage people to help you.
  • Conduct an audit of assumptions - make a written list of what you are assuming, and examine these points one by one.
  • Identify some beginning employees who can mentor you - and get insights and suggestions for them. You will be impressed by the quality of their ideas.
  • Borrow someone's job - trade with someone for a week or more. This will force you to learn again.
  • Ask some naive questions - talk about the main issues.

Leave your comfort zone

A good way to force yourself into an amateur mode is to get out of your comfort zone and accept a challenge that you are not ready for. In practical terms, there are two ways to achieve this:

  • You can accept a job or a project that you are not qualified for - and then run to learn.
  • You can stay on the border - it means you accept a challenge that pushes you out of your industry. Doing something very different will force you back into an amateur mode, especially if the project has a lot of visibility.

How do you know when it's time to take on new challenges? There are no rules on this, but you can observe these ten signs:

  • Everything is going well.
  • You only get positive feedback.
  • You do not need to think hard and operate on autopilot.
  • You do not prepare for the meetings because you already know all the answers.
  • You have stopped learning something new every day.
  • You're busy, but bored too.
  • You waste your time on the way to work.
  • You get tired of thinking about the future.
  • Your perspective is getting negative, but you do not know why.
  • You spend a lot of time trying to fix the problem of others.

Take small steps constantly

To reach an amateur mode and stay in it, you need to take on challenging and uncomfortable tasks, but not impossible.

A great example is Paul McCartney. When the Beatles ended in 1969, McCartney decided he wanted to do it all over again, but differently. He formed a new band called Wings with his wife and two musicians and started performing at local universities. The band would arrive uninvited at the universities, search the student directories, and ask if they could play the next day. The students were impressed when Paul McCartney took the stage. In the end, Paul McCartney and the band had five hit albums.

Another great example of this principle in action was Michelangelo painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. This was his first attempt at fresh painting - a technique in which the paint was applied while the plaster was still moist, allowing the colors to chemically blend with the walls. One of Michelangelo's rivals suggested to Pope Julius II that he should hire Michelangelo to do the painting, hoping that Michelangelo would fail and that he be hired to solve the situation.

Michelangelo hired two assistants who were skilled at fresco painting, to work with him for a few weeks while acquiring the necessary skills. He also consulted theologians who suggested themes for the paintings. And then he started working for four years on the roof.

The result of this amateur project is now considered one of the great treasures of the Renaissance.

Create renewal rituals

Another great way is to establish some rituals that will help you renew your thinking. Some suggestions:

  • Raise your perspective by talking to strangers every week.
  • Set aside a day to be your "thinking day," in which you have no commitment, but use the day to learn new things.
  • Take a week to read new books and magazines to get new ideas.
  • Stay without going online for a week.
  • Attend a conference in an area other than your own.
  • Leave your computer aside for a day and use paper and pen.
  • Take a long walk. Refuse to come back until you have a new idea.
  • Learn to meditate.
  • Know that routines are not common to smart amateurs. The amateur rituals you establish need to be changed periodically, otherwise, they become habits that bind you.

Rethink how you manage talents

If you want your organization to have the amateur style, you will need to rethink how you manage your talents. Some ideas you might consider are:

  • Hiring - As part of your standard hiring practices, look for people who have personality traits from the eternal amateurs. This includes curiosity, humility, deliberation, etc. Instead of hiring based on experience, hire for the agility of learning.
  • Task Project - Include a learning component in everyone's task description. You can also offer extra tasks so that executives take on different responsibilities every three or four years.
  • Recognize when people are more open to learning - which is more likely when people are in a new position, or when they face a challenge.

Give novices a voice

One of the simplest ways to have an amateur-minded organization is to systematically seek insights from new hires. Get these people to work on their most complicated problems, and let them generate answers, instead of assuming they do not know enough to help.

Build teams or partnerships that combine the best of amateurs with the veterans' ability. If you build teams, you can have the best of both worlds. These partnerships can be configured in different ways:

  • Ground and spark - you can have a veteran who brings clarity to a problem, and an amateur who injects energy and determination.
  • Talent Hunter and New Talent - You can use these partnerships to identify the best newbies and then mentor them.
  • Counselor and Entrepreneur - You can have a veteran who knows how the world works and a novice entrepreneur who is excited about changing the world.
  • Out of the box - you can combine experience and ingenuity to generate a brilliant collective idea.

Let executives be rookies again

Give your executives permission and opportunity to be new again. As?

When you make your leaders accept amateur chores, in areas outside their areas of expertise, you generate great results for the organization. This signals that learning is a good thing and that doing new things is important for future competitiveness. There is a certain energy in achieving something new. New ideas and insights will emerge from these initiatives.

Amateur chores will not be found on a typical career path. You will need to set people on fire with the idea of ​​new learning curves and teach them to move out of their comfort zones while learning new things. However, the alternative is that people become stagnant. When you let your executives be newbies, you also let them flag when they are ready for bigger challenges in the future.

Final Notes

It is very important that you learn how to define the ideal amateur mentality for you. Any one of the four mentalities will help you to develop better, and to enjoy the advantages of thinking like an amateur while being a pro.

Also, to achieve success, you need to adopt some practices and characteristics that every amateur has. These features bring competitive advantages and help you and your business to take advantage of a beginner's mindset.

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