Tag Archives: Practically Radical

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!)}

What Makes A Good Writer? It May Start With Being A Good Reader – Consider Barbara Tuchman

What makes a good writer?  It may start with being a good reader.

And what makes a good reader?  It may start with a love of books.

And what creates a love of books?  That’s tougher to answer…  But for those who are lucky enough to love books, we have our champions.  Like Barbara Tuchman.

Barbara Tuchman

Bob posted this earlier: Summer Reading Picks from Dan Pink, Seth Godin, Eliot Spitzer, and More.  It was written by William C. Taylor, co-founder of Fast Company magazine and coauthor of Mavericks at Work. His next book is Practically Radical.  Taylor asked Pink, Godin, Spitzer, and others about their favorites.  And then he shared a couple of his own favorite books.  This is about his second choice:

My second choice is The March of Folly by historian (and two-time Pulitzer winner) Barbara Tuchman. She looks at some of the great failures of leadership in history — the Trojan War, British reactions to the American colonies, Vietnam — and teases out lessons that illuminate more current leadership crises.

So, who is Barbara Tuchman?  Tuchman twice won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction, first for The Guns of August in 1963, and again for Stilwell and the American Experience in China in 1972.  A renowned historian, she was first and foremost a lover of learning, which flowed from her love of books.

In Practicing History, she tells the story of “the single most formative experience” in her career.  It is about a moment that happened in her first trip into the stacks of a great library.

In the process of doing my own thesis – not for a Ph.D., because I never took a graduate degree, but just my undergraduate honors thesis — the single most formative experience in my career took place.  It was not a tutor or a teacher or a fellow student or a great book or the shining example of some famous visiting lecturer – like Sir Charles Webster, for instance, brilliant as he was.  It was the stacks at Widener.  They were my Archimedes bathtub, my burning bush, my dish of mold where I found my personal penicillin.  I was allowed to have as my own one of those little cubicles with a table under a window, queerly called, as I have since learned, carrels, a word I never knew when I sat in one.  Mine was deep in among the 9425 (British History, that is) and I could roam at liberty through the rich stacks, taking whatever I wanted.  The experience was marvelous, a word I use in its exact sense meaning full of marvels.  The happiest days of my intellectual life, until I began writing history again some fifteen years later, were spent in the stacks at Widener.  My daughter Lucy, class of ’61, once said to me that she could not enter the labyrinth of Widener’s stacks without feeling that she ought to carry a compass, a sandwich, and a whistle.  I too was never altogether sure I could find the way out, but I was blissful as a cow put to graze in a field of fresh clover and would not have cared if I had been locked in for the night.

This is primarily a blog about business books, authors of business books, ideas found in business books, and general observations about business and life.  But every now and then, we need to reconnect with the starting point – a pure love of books.  Barbara Tuchman was captivated — won over — by the stacks at one of the world’s great libraries.  It is a feeling I understand.

a look into one library's stacks