12 Most Important Unspoken Truths about Experts
The trigger to ponder what constitutes an expert came to me over ten years ago after meeting several insightful professors at a university. Joking with them, I suggested hiring them as contractors to tutor me. After pausing I commented, “Isn’t it funny? I would receive a better education, but I wouldn’t become degreed because I didn’t go through the university’s program.” At that moment, I first saw credentials as a stamp indicating a grade of meat without making it healthier or tastier. Here’s the deeper point: people often tell us who the experts are without us ever pausing to do our own due diligence.
With that introduction, I present my “12Most” for your thoughtful reading pleasure.
1. Subjectivity determines experts
We subjectively determine experts. Yes, processes exist to manufacture experts, but experts create and run them, and experts are human. Therefore, the processes represent a collective subjectivity. Furthermore, many experts arise outside of these processes because many people call them experts.
2. Experts are extremely defensive of their expertise
Once people have no value for an expert’s domain of expertise, the expert has no value. Therefore, experts will tend to defend their turfs. As happened with the debate over peanut allergies, one side will tend to get all the press and funding. Experts defend their domains by forming groups and developing their own terminology. It’s their wall against the barbarians who might threaten or dilute their expertise.
3. Experts form mutual-adoration unions
People often become experts because other experts call them experts, so it helps to become part of a group that refers to each member as an expert. This occurs subliminally when experts praise and footnote each other publicly often subconsciously hoping a return favor. This is a political process analogous to a circular reference in Excel, or a City in the Sky, in which there is no stable, objective point of reference.
4. The scientific method is more akin to a magic trick than a religious rite
The scientific method is many experts’ magic wand. Their power derives from the reverence we have for it when they say “researched” or “scientifically proven.” However, the method is very subjective especially when applied to the study of people because people have to define the problem and the controls. The method is also very limited. It cannot even prove something as simple as good leadership begets good business. It cannot prove love exists or why we like music. Yet, experts will proclaim the sanctity of this method because without it, they’re just someone holding a stick.
5. Money warps the “Expertise-Industrial Complex”
Many thrive financially on what experts produce; so, it strongly influences what experts study and what appears in journals, programs and other media. As a result, attention-grabbing outcomes receive preference while any peer review countering these findings receives the brush off. Just as money has influenced the news business, it has infiltrated expertise to produce a Expertise-Industrial Complex.
6. Experts don’t need to be innovative or creative
Nothing says experts need to be original. Many of them, especially those who are outcomes of a credentialed process, have become experts in thinking the way senior experts want them to think. Moreover, as experts become more established, they trend toward consensus. If they’re an outlier and shown wrong, other experts might not view them as experts anymore.
7. Experts don’t need real-life experiences to be experts
The scientific method, in the name of “objectivity,” encourages many experts to be detached observers of the very field in which they claim expertise. They don’t need to be actual practitioners in a real-life setting.
8. Popularity does not make an expert
Junk food is very popular, but that doesn’t make it nutritional. Just as there is junk food, there is junk knowledge. People buy diet fads promising quick and easy weight loss; people buy idea fads promising quick and easy business solutions. Sometimes, experts don’t need good ideas, just good packaging.
9. Television doesn’t make an expert
If an idiot called you a genius, would you feel complimented? Once upon a time, people referred to television as the idiot box. Television wants viewers, lots of them. People who are on television are experts at getting on television, period. There is a strategy; ask any public relations expert.
10. Books don’t make an expert
Books are getting shorter every day, but the font is getting bigger and more spacious all the time. Consequently, the number of words and the number of ideas per dollar continues to shrink. Readers love it: they can boast about reading many books. Experts love it: they can write and sell more books with less material.
11. Experts tend to be afraid of laypersons’ questions
Why do many parents fear their children’s questions? Experts fear layperson’s questions for similar reasons: they can come from an unexpected direction exposing a potential hole in the domain of expertise.
12. The best way to become an expert is to begin by calling yourself one
In this way, you’ll better learn what an expert is. You’ll learn to think for yourself rather than rely upon others to tell you who the experts are.
After all this, you might be asking yourself, “What is an expert?” It’s a unique, very personal problem-solving exercise. You might not find experts on television, in a book or on a most popular list, but I guarantee that you’ll find them very helpful.
Featured image courtesy of Pete Prodoehl licensed via creative commons.