Recently, Dave Trott, an advertising and marketing guru, wrote a blog about the dangers of conventional wisdom. He used the Wright Brothers as his example and it struck a chord. For centuries, he wrote, man tried to fly and failed. Man tried all sorts of wings: straight wings, curved wings, feathered wings, multi-layered wings. Nothing worked until the Wright brothers in 1903, when they flew 859 feet in 59 seconds. So what did the Wright brothers do that was different to everyone else?

They had wings like everyone else, but the wings were different, the wings were warped. All other wings had been based on the thinking that the air under the wings pushed the wing upwards. The Wright brothers were the first to understand it was the opposite; it was the air above the wings that sucked the wing upwards. It’s called the Venturi effect. The lower density of air above the wing caused it to get sucked upwards, and the plane would fly. The same effect was true of ships, albeit with vertical sails, which means the most modern racing yachts can actually go faster than the wind.

Breaking away from conventional wisdom

For hundreds of years, we’d been blindly following the wrong theory just because that was the conventional wisdom. A more recent example is the iPhone. At its launch, Steve Jobs announced that every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along which changes everything, and that the iPhone was one of them. But why? It was a smart phone just like many others. It did everything that smart phones do, and more.

Except it wasn’t just like many others. What had happened was that other manufacturers had let their technology and conventional wisdom lead them. “That’s how smart phones are,” they said. “Aren’t we clever?” They ended up producing phones that were incredibly ‘smart’, but incredibly difficult to navigate and use. They’d forgotten about the user.

So, by going back to basic principles, Apple ignored conventional wisdom, talked to their customers and asked them what they wanted from a ‘smart phone’. As a result, Apple reinvented the phone and changed the world forever.

So what relevance does this have to us?

In the world of careers education, the same observations can be made. For the last 50 years, careers education has primarily focussed on the demand of what employers say they want, and which potential employees, starting with the teenage years, were best suited to those roles. They’re judged by the subjects they’re good at, or more recently, what psychometric testing thought.

But how many people end up in a career they can’t wait to get out of? In the wrong job for them, because not everybody simply wants to follow their best subjects at school? Or what their parents do? 96% of graduates change jobs by the time they’re 24 years old, costing the UK economy billions of pounds every year.

Conventional wisdom says that careers education should be directional advice delivered to youngsters through schools by teachers. Or by parents at home. Or parents’ friends. Because they know best. As Justine Andrews, Market Director, Education, KPMG said:

“Everybody addresses the demand side of employment in one way or another. They always have, and still do. But Working Eye addresses the desires and needs of the supply side – the individual who is going to spend a lot of their lives in that career or doing that job. Working Eye are, quite literally, the only people who do that, allowing individuals to discover careers for themselves and importantly, how to pursue that career from the outset.”

Getting on the right career path

The World Economic Forum wants to reskill one billion people by 2030. In order to achieve that, it is most likely that we’ll need to get teenagers on the right career path from the start. And for career changers of all ages, the information they need in order to discover a new career that’s right for them needs to be available. ‘Careers advice’ needs to be turned into a path of empowering ‘career discovery’, and conventional wisdom turned on its head. Just as the Wright Brothers did. And Steve Jobs did. Because all too often, conventional, collective wisdom is based on individual ignorance. No one questioned anything, until someone did question something. And they stopped following the obvious, accepted, conventional wisdom to do the opposite. They questioned something that most thought shouldn’t be questioned. And by doing so this, as Mr Trott quite rightly points out, is where all great creative leaps come from. Nobody ever changed anything, by doing more of the same.