Who you know can trump what you know … Being a know-it-all can be self-defeating

Sometimes who you know is much more important than what you know. As an example, although it’s not always fair, being acquainted with a CEO of a non-related company to get your kid a scarce summer job trumps his or her being a genius. Knowing someone who has previously solved a thorny problem also beats having to start from scratch to do the exact same thing.

Executives are measured by what they achieve rather than by the specific knowledge they might personally contribute to a major undertaking. A business leader is much like an orchestra conductor who must direct the virtuosos on stage to produce just the right tone that resonates with the audience.

Can a maestro play each of the instruments in the ensemble to perfection — becoming, if you will, a one-man band? Most probably can’t. Instead, the leader of the company or an orchestra must have a great ear, a sense of timing and the ability to modulate the tone of each piece, bringing the entire organization or orchestra to the desired crescendo.

Improve upon the basic skills

Most executives weren’t endowed with finely honed skills when they began their careers. Instead, most started with basic skills and eventually became competent through a series of experiences. Along the way they also made invaluable contacts through networking. This is all about becoming the catalyst and big thinker, asking others who they know to fill in the blanks or to provide the integral missing piece.

It’s certainly gratifying to be the innovator who can be a soloist. But at what cost? And, just because the leader might not know who to ask at the moment doesn’t mean he or she can’t identify and motivate someone who has done it before to provide the critical piece to complete the puzzle. Frequently, it’s just a matter of knowing someone who knows someone else.

Being a leader is all about understanding how to get something rolling and moving forward without always recreating a completely new masterpiece. An incubator product, concept or way of doing something frequently includes components of what previously was or now is.

Borrowing the “know how” elements from the original creator and making your nascent innovation better or simply incorporating pieces from the past can produce a breakthrough. Look at Alexander Graham Bell’s first phone and today’s smartphones. How about today’s Ferrari spawned from Henry Ford’s Model T?

Serve the new unique needs

With the phone and the car, the new disrupters and innovators improved upon something that already existed. They likely got started by determining where to look first for answers to serve their new unique needs. They didn’t necessarily have to be the specialist.

The mentality that every piece and part must be “invented here” many times results in wasting valuable time, effort and money.

A great conductor learns how to make beautiful music by combining what he or she knows with the talents of others to create an encore performance.