Technical leaders are not as good as their team members

You are an technical expert, and you are really good.  But you are not as good as you used to be. As a result you are likely making decisions using half-remembered, old information that doesn’t fit the current situation.  Harsh.  

At some point our technical expertise peaked and that was probably somewhere near the last time you took a final exam or certification.  As soon as we start doing a job, we start using just a sliver of our vast knowledge, and we add to that small base on a need-to-know basis.  As a result, we tend to forget the details of most of what we know and become more narrow in what we do know.  We know the minute details of our space very well, but there are plenty of others who generally know more than we do.

In the midst of solving your immediate issues at work (and new time-committments outside of work ) very few of us are able to keep up on on the changing technology and discoveries outside of our most immediate area–or even in our area because we focus on the technology and discoveries that solve our immediate problem.  As a result our technical knowledge tends to get old relative to what’s out there–relative to the newest hire.  

While we have been solving our problem, the world continues to turn. Times have changed.  New problems arise.  Unfortunately, faced with a new problem, we are coming from our old perspective.  Yes, we are capable of learning new information, but that new information is always informed and starts from our old paradigms.  It is an enormous amount of effort to change fundamental models and learn whole new ways of thinking.  We will never keep up with those who don’t have the requirement to shed old information and ways of thinking.  We are starting that race 20 paces behind.   

This seems awful.  What can we do?  

Accept it. If it helps initially,  remind yourself that someday their knowledge will be outdated too.  Don’t be jealous or competitive with the new people. 

Embrace it.  You will get much further by respecting and engaging others, especially those with different and better knowledge.  Let that expertise be in their heads like a good set of reference books.  Find out what they know, how it is different from your knowledge set.  

Use it.  What do you have that no one else has?  You have experience and perspective.  While you may not have the technical expertise to be the best choice anymore, you have been in many problem solving situations.  That contextual experience and big picture perspective is something that only comes with time.  Using your experience and perspective, you can manage the knowledge of others and apply it where and when necessary to get a new problem solved.

As a technology leader–this is your role.    

Jonathan Shaver