Even though we’re living in an era where perhaps more college dropouts than at any other time in history are becoming obscenely wealthy, there are still those establishment folks — on both the political right and left — who ferociously cling to the old caste system whereby experts are accorded a cushy position at the top.
Of course, the definition of an expert is strictly subjective. The truth be known, someone commonly referred to as an expert is all too often just an overly degreed guy who revels in telling you all the reasons why you can’t do something. And speaking for myself, being told that I can’t do something usually motivates me to prove that I can.
Sometimes an expert is nothing more than an ordinary guy from out of town who knows a lot about one subject or another. I have always marveled at how an individual’s expert status seems to increase in direct proportion to the distance he travels from his hometown to the city where serves up his expert advice.
The biggest problem with experts is that because they usually are specialists, they tend to suffer from myopia. And that, in turn, often prevents them from seeing the big picture. To paraphrase the great logotherapist Viktor Frankl, an expert is a person who cannot see the forest of truth for the trees of facts.
A certificate prominently displayed on his wall is perhaps the most intimidating weapon an expert has at this disposal. Don’t buy into it. You should never allow a piece of paper to intimidate you. Just because someone has a license issued by a government, a university, or any other institution that allows him to practice his profession without having to worry about unlicensed competition (a phenomenon known in organized crime as a “protection racket”) doesn’t mean he has all the answers.
While experts may be knowledgeable in their fields, they are far from infallible. I never cease to be amazed by how many otherwise sharp businesspeople look to their attorneys and accountants for business advice. Not legal and accounting advice — business advice!
No diploma, license, or any other piece of paper can take the place of wisdom, common sense, and an ability to solve problems. In this regard, your attitude toward self-anointed experts should be: Don’t try to overwhelm me with your diplomas or vitae; instead, impress me by producing measurable results.
If you’re in the habit of checking out a person’s certification credentials for confirmation of his expertise, particularly if his only credential is a piece of paper issued by some bureaucratic institution, you might want to give some serious thought to breaking such a naïve habit, post haste.
Then get in the habit of checking a person’s premises when he speaks. I pay more attention to a person’s premises than just about anything else he says or does. Nothing turns me off more than someone who deals in false premises on a regular basis — and, worst of all, with a straight face. (If you’d like to study this phenomenon, your best bet is to watch politicians pontificate on television. They are masters at starting every argument by positing their conclusion as a premise.)
Whenever you start to relapse into allowing yourself to be intimidated by purported or self-proclaimed experts, remember that the great Greek philosopher Aristotle once insisted that the earth was the center of the universe and that seven planets — which he believed included the sun and the moon — revolved around it.
Don’t laugh. Based on scientific knowledge available at that time, Aristotle’s pronouncements seemed perfectly reasonable — sort of like Al Gore’s global warming “arguments.” But the passage of time has made Aristotle’s belief seem quite absurd. Hey, if you can’t trust Aristotle, what expert can you trust?
The problem is that new evidence in virtually every field emerges almost daily, which all too often makes even last year’s experts look foolish. In our amazing new Internet world, we all have access to pretty much the same information, so it’s time to learn-up and rely on your own judgment as often as possible.
If you haven’t already done so, you would be wise to be wary of those who wear the expert moniker and avoid making decisions based solely on their opinions. By all means, listen to what an expert has to say, but always weigh what you hear against all other available evidence.
Above all, weigh it against your own reasoning power, then make decisions accordingly. Never forget that when it comes to drawing conclusions, firsthand experience is best, common sense second, and authoritative source third. Meaning that most of the time you should be relying on your own common sense.