Franklin Roosevelt once said that “there are as many opinions as there are experts”. But have you ever wondered that if there were so many experts why is it that we still have so many problems?
With so many experts, shouldn’t we be able to address many of our social ills?
I have often pondered this, especially since we constantly hear politicians, business leaders and others in authority, talk about consulting with experts to find solutions to problems. Many of these experts come in at considerable cost, often with little to show for it.
Even within my business area — consulting – you would often hear coaches say that you need to become the obvious expert. I often say that I am experienced, but don’t consider myself an expert at anything, especially in information technology, where everything changes so quickly.
What makes an expert?
“An expert is one who knows a lot about the past.”
~ Tom Hopkins
What exactly makes a expert? Well, from what I understand, an expert has three qualities:
- They recognise patterns
- They have specific knowledge
- They have a wealth of experience
Let’s take a moment to consider these three qualities of experts, and why they are also crutches.
1. Limits of Pattern Recognition
In an experiment by Chase and Simon in 1973 they tested how well to groups of people — experts and novices – reproduced a chessboard after seeing it briefly. They found that the experts far exceeded the novices in reproducing the board only if the board was arranged in an actual game position. However, the performance between the two groups were similar if the board was randomly organised. This showed that the experts were better only when faced with situations that they recognised, but had little advantage when the situation was new.
2. The Curse of Knowledge
In another experiment by Newton in 1990 called “tappers” and “listeners”, the tappers were asked to tap out the rhythm of a well-known song, like “happy birthday”, on a table. The listener’s job was to guess the name of tune. Of the 120 trials, the listeners were only able to successfully guess 2.5% of the times. However, before the experiment, when the tappers were asked how well the listeners would do, they guessed that they would get it right about 50% of the time.
This is called the curse of knowledge. While this experiment was used to illustrate difficulty in communicating, it shows that when we know something personally, we tend to make incorrect assumptions to how hard or how easy something may be. Other experiments have shown similar errors in judgement, but I’ve always liked this one.
3. Curse of Experience
There’s also something called the curse of experience that befalls the experts. Because experts rely on past experience to make decisions, they draw solutions from a very narrow pool of information. They become stuck in what they know and rarely venture into what they do not know.
So ask an educator how to solve educational problems and he or she will give you a solution along the lines of different curriculum or class structures. Ask a hedge fund analyst, and he comes up with an idea of using videos on YouTube.
What do these mean?
“The moment one gets into the ‘expert’ state of mind, a great number of things become impossible.”
~ Henry Ford
Considering these three points, when you look at the problems facing the world, we see three things:
- The problems are new or have never been encountered before.
- The impact of those problems are usually either overestimated or underestimated.
- The solutions to those problems are usually repackaged solutions of the past.
I hope that you can see the trend here.
So you see, we shouldn’t depend on experts to solve or pressing problems, especially when those problems are new.
If not the experts, then who?
“In today’s economy there are no experts. No ‘best and brightest’ with all the answers. It’s up to each one of us. The only way to screw up is to not try anything.”
~ Tom Peters
So what should we do? Well, I’m no expert, but I would suggest the following.
- Don’t dismiss anyone else’s comments or suggestions, especially with comments that alludes to the person not been qualified to offer a solution.
- Offer incentives to those outside of the field to offer solutions. You can take a look at the X-prize for a something that has worked before.
- Be open to failure. Failure is a part of trying and the learning process.
I firmly hold the belief that we are all more than capable of solving our problems. We must however first give up the notion that it is up to those with the power to do so.
We all have that power!
Don’t listen to experts.
~ James Dyson