The Traits That Lead to Success—And How To Tell Who's Got Them

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This article was originally published in Fast Company, October 28, 2014.

Technology changes quickly. Companies implode and people switch jobs every few years.

If 30% of information in some fields becomes obsolete in a year, how long does expertise last? says Liz Wiseman in her forthcoming book, Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work.

It’s not that expertise isn’t helpful, but success comes from constantly approaching work as a “perpetual rookie,” Wiseman writes, someone who is “living and working perpetually on a learning curve.” People who can do that will thrive. Here’s how to recognize someone who’s always in back-to-school mode:

1. THEY ASK GOOD QUESTIONS.

Rookies have the ability to see things differently than those with too much skin in the game. They can “step a layer out of something and question it,” says Wiseman.

Of course, in a job interview, people ask the questions they’re supposed to ask, which is why it’s great to meet people in other situations, like at a conference, when someone you’re talking to asks questions about your business that you’ve never thought of.

You can encourage this mindset in more veteran employees by allowing those who’ve taken new roles to spend a few weeks really talking to everyone and asking what people think. Sometimes organizations do things for good reasons. And sometimes, they’ve simply stopped asking why they do what they do.

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  • “Wiseman masterfully shows why novices can outdo veterans, expertise blinds us to fresh ideas, and the brilliance of newbies remains untapped. With sage insights and fascinating examples, Rookie Smarts is a must-read.”
    ADAM GRANT
    Wharton professor and author of Give and Take
  • “If you want to be a learning machine, improving and growing every year, this is the book for you.”
    LASZLO BOCK
    SVP of People Operations, Google, Inc.
  • “Wiseman (co-author: The Multiplier Effect: Tapping the Genius Inside Our Schools, 2014, etc.) provides a big boost for first-time employees and others who refuse to be bound by arbitrary limits. . . .An exciting promotion of lifelong discovery and enthusiasm as answers to routine and business as usual.”
    Kirkus Reviews
  • “As a company grows, nothing is more important than retaining a culture of innovation. Rookie Smarts shows how even a big company can take risks, innovate, and operate like a challenger.”
    MARC BENIOFF
    Chairman and CEO, Salesforce.com