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LDS author analyzes benefits of inexperience in book 'Rookie Smarts'

Liz Wiseman, BYU aluma and LDS author of "Multipliers" and "The Multiplier Effect," has throughout her entire career been given roles she was under-qualified for. From that experience grew the idea for her recent book, "Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work" (Harper Business, $28.99).

Wiseman has seen that she has often done her best work when put into professional situations that required her to grow, stretch and fill in the gap between where she was and where she needed to be. These experiences gave her a sense that sometimes what we know gets in the way of what we don’t know.

From there, Wiseman decided to do research into the advantages of inexperience in the workforce. She and her research team analyzed more than 400 work scenarios, studying how inexperienced people approach a task compared to their experienced counterparts.

Her research found that while veterans are knowledgeable, confident and intuitive, they can become crippled as they get comfortable and even prideful in their experience. By contrast, those new to a task, regardless of their age, are open to new possibilities, seek the advice of experts and work at a fast, excited pace to get things accomplished. They are hungry, driven and willing to push boundaries.

Wiseman seeks to show experienced business leaders how they can put themselves back into the rookie mindset. For her, it was making the career move to business coaching and writing after 15 years of working with the same company that allowed her to renew her own "rookie smarts."

“The real fundamental reason why I wrote this book,” Wiseman said in an interview, “is because there are a lot of companies and individuals who are asking if you can continue to live and work perpetually on a learning curve and establish a successful company operating with hunger, drive, and fresh insight.” Her book strives to show them how they can.

Wiseman has observed from life experience that many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are used to functioning in a rookie role.

“The beauty of a lay church is we’re put in front of a podium and told to speak since we’re 3 years old,” she said. “We’re given callings, put into leadership roles and asked to do things we have no clue how to do — and we figure it out. We’re asked to do something important where we’re needed, and so we learn, grow and get used to this temporary feeling of being incompetent.”

In her research, Wiseman also observed that some women are less likely to take on professional roles they feel unqualified for than are men. At the same time, women tend to excel in essential rookie smart characteristics such as humility, a willingness to ask questions and a tendency toward collaboration.

“I think if I could offer a message for women, it is to not fear the rookie zone,” Wiseman said. “Although it may feel uncomfortable, once you get yourself out there that is the space where you’re going to be at your very best.”

Wiseman would encourage women not to shy away from a responsibility that seems too big for them in favor of accepting an easy job.

“Having a job that’s boring is going to take way more energy than having a job that’s hard and exhilarating,” she said. “I think women are capable of incredible contributions in their homes, communities and in the workplace.”

As a mother of four children who currently resides in Menlo Park, California, Wiseman has also seen that being a parent is like being a perpetual rookie. She thinks it is important for everyone to find ways to constantly challenge themselves to do new, hard things, whether in or out of the home.

“If we work outside our comfort zones in a role we’re not fully qualified for, we stay rookies,” she said. “I think that’s what brings us our greatest professional and personal satisfaction. It’s what builds capacity and it’s what brings us joy. It’s our happy place.”

Wiseman earned a bachelor's degree in business management and a master's of organizational behavior from Brigham Young University and was an executive at the Oracle Corporation. She is now the president of the Wiseman Group, a leadership research and development firm.

Michelle Garrett is a journalism graduate from BYU and currently works as a business magazine writer for a network marketing company in Utah. She is also a contributing blogger at utahchildrenswriters.blogspot.com. Email: mgarrett3589@gmail.com