The Curse of “The Era of The Short Cut” – Or, We Need More Genuine Experts; You Know, With Actual Expertise

Expertise (noun):  the skill of an expert


So I’ve been thinking about expertise.

Let’s start with this great quote from Scorecasting:

Fans are rarely so deluded as to suggest that they could match the throwing arm of Peyton Manning or defend Kobe Bryant or return Roger Federer’s serve, but somehow every fan with a ticket of a flat-screen television is convinced he could call a game as well as the schmo (or worse) wearing the zebra-striped shirt.  Officials are accurate – uncannily so – in their calls…  They’ve devoted years of training to their craft, developed a vast range of skills and experiences, and made it through a seemingly endless winnowing process to get to the highest level…  they tend to be driven, and smart, and successful in their other careers as well.
Tobias J. Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim:  Scorecasting — The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports are Played and Games are Won

The point of this quote is clear:  we all think we are experts in certain areas – areas in which we have no actual expertise at all.

And I think this plays into a trait of this era – call it the era of the short cut.  We all want to take short cuts – and I use the “we “ inclusively.  I want to take short cuts, just like you do.  (don’t you?!)

And, maybe, Google has made it worse.

Here’s what I mean.  We hear one interview; we read one book; we do a Google search and we read just a few entries; and we begin to think we “know” that subject, that issue.

And we don’t.

I remember a theology professor back in my Graduate School days.  One student commented that he had read “everything written on speaking on tongues” (a big issue in the late 1960s, early 1970s).  This professor paused, and slowly just eviscerated the student.  He asked:  “have you read this book, and this book, and this book?” (and he just overflowed with titles).  The student had not only not read them, he had clearly not heard of them.  And then the clincher:  the teacher asked:  “have you read everything in German on this subject?  How about in Spanish?  In French?” By the time the object lesson was over, I came away with the sad reality that I may never be a genuine expert on any subject.

So… if we are not genuine experts, then we have our work cut out for us.  Here are some suggestions:

#1 – Keep studying, keep learning.  There is so much to learn, in every area.

#2 – Develop a dose of confident humility.  Yes, be confident about what you do know – but be very aware, and thus humble, about what you do not know.  Or, as William Taylor puts it in Practically Radical (borrowing from others), cultivate humbitionHumbition:  the right mix of aspiration and humility.

#3 – Be careful about your claims of expertise.  It takes a while to become an expert – a long while – to become a genuine expert.

#4 – Learn who the real experts are, and read their words, read interviews with them, read their books….  Learn from the best/right/smartest people.

{And then, ignore this entire blog post.  Because, it is pretty clear that a young college student with not much experience under his belt can invent Facebook and demonstrate all of the expertise any one could ever hope for.  (Doesn’t that just drive you crazy!)}

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *