Expert Advice versus Common Sense

Posted on March 4, 2015 by Robert Ringer


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.

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

16 responses to “Expert Advice versus Common Sense”

  1. Geno Pacioli says:

    Mr. Ringer, I couldn't agree more. This reminds me of something my Dear Old Mother told me in the 1990s: "Until the 1970s, the dental profession did not actually know [nor did anyone else] the proper way to brush teeth: they instructed all their patients to only brush *down* from the gum onto the tooth, and not to push the gum back with the brush … ". This was wrong. Brushing up under the gumline is generally necessary to prevent gingivitis and other serious dental problems. So, if dental experts did not even know how to brush teeth properly until the 1970s, then I think we're safe to assume that most "experts" in most fields don't really meet reasonable expectations on real expertise. Having said this, it makes for an environment where people will completely disregard someone with real expertise … . Cheers, GP

  2. TheLookOut says:

    Robert, another masterpiece. Thanks

  3. Vern Steinhoff says:

    Mr. Ringer: I can't believe this emai. Just this morning I wrote an email to a columnist and copied it to the Editor of the RJ paper, saying similary the same thing about a college degree. No I didn't go to college but have had 74 years of life education! Vern Steinhoff

  4. Jon says:

    Expert: "Ex" as in has-been and "Spurt" as in drip-under-pressure. There are two kinds of educated people in this country: those that have "degrees" and those that don't. There are also two kinds of uneducated people in this country: those that have degrees and those that don't. Excellent article, Robert!

  5. Paradox says:

    "An expert is soneone who studies more and more about less and less until eventually he knows everything about nothing." – Anon

  6. Mike says:

    Great article. Have you even watched the news reporting a terrorist bombing, for instance? Usually the anchor will introduce 'Joe Noname – Terrorism Expert' to give his views and definitive answers on how terrorists operate. These days he's usually dressed in a tee-shirt or open-collared striped shirt without a tie. My question: What makes him an expert moreso than someone who actually reported from the war zone?
    Governments like to earn money by taxing you for a piece of paper that certifies you to perform certain functions, even though the certifying body has no idea how to do what you do. Cosmetology, hair-cutting, pedicures and manicures come to mind. I'm a self-taught programmer. I taught myself a programming language and used that knowledge to create secure websites. I have no computer certification, yet I can secure a website against any type of attack, test and debug my own code, and confidently demonstrate and sell it to a prospect. For programmers, logic is the key to success, not a piece of paper.
    Many people think that because they can speak English, that they can teach it to a non-native speaker. Nothing could be further from the truth. I taught English in China and it wasn't until I learned Chinese sentence construction and Chinese tones that I became successful.
    You are so right. Many people think a piece of paper from a certifying authority makes you credible. Nothing could be further from the truth in many cases. I'm not talking about medical degrees or other knwledge intense occupations however.

    • boundedfunction says:

      Papier-mâché. "chewed paper". a composite material consisting of paper pieces or pulp, sometimes reinforced with textiles, bound with an adhesive, such as glue, starch, or wallpaper paste.

      or "taxtiles". & political adhesives. chewers, chewers, everywhere, everywhen….

      “there you have the problem,” my uncle said. “For money in England is being replaced with the promise of money. We in business have long valued banknotes & paper money, because they allow for large sums to be conveyed with ease & relative safety. They have allowed for the flourishing of international commerce we see today. yet for many men, there is something most unsettling about the replacement of value with the promise of value.”

      “I do not see why this causes unease. If I am the merchant & can buy what I will with this banknote, or if I can easily convert it to gold, where is the harm?”

      “the harm,” my uncle said, “is in whom this system makes powerful. If value is no longer vested in gold, but in the promise of gold, then the men who make the promises hold ultimate power, no? if money & gold are one & the same, then gold defines value, but if money & paper are the same, then value is based upon nothing at all.”

      ~ snip of “a conspiracy of paper”, david liss

      love of money the root of evil? nah. ignorance of money. or, possibly, love of ignorance. or maybe even just ignorance of love. paper money, paper credentials, paper promises, paper trails…little jackie paper keeps rollin’ & puffin’ & smokin’ the magic dragon that lays the golden eggs…little Jackie paper is a dragon-breathed addict.☻

  7. Heather says:

    Perfectly put, thank you for the reminder as always.

  8. Terence Verma says:

    Widely recognised ability in a field makes one an authority. On the other hand, skilfulness from which the idea of expertise derives is pretty much a relative thing. If you know just a little bit more than the other guy, you are an expert in his eyes. An expert is as an expert does.

  9. Alex Smith says:

    Sadly this is very true Robert. It is one of the reasons why the education system is failing in the vast majority of countries. Education, in the scholastic sense, has become more about learning, recalling and regurgitating a vast quantity of "facts" on demand. Rather like a trained seal. Instead it should return tot he principles expounded by the Greek Philosophers – learning to think and apply that thought process to practical issues. A degree/diploma etc. merely means that the individual has bee able to recall at least 50% of the information they studied. It does not mean that they are able to effectively utilize that knowledge. As you say, that proof comes with their past accomplishments.

    As for the intimidation part, one should never be intimidated by another's knowledge of a specific subject if their own critical thinking is up to speed. Anyone, given sufficient time, can learn the substance of a subject and regurgitate it. However, if your thinking skills are well tuned, it becomes easy to evaluate any subject by looking at the consistency of their information and premises of argument.

    Another thoughtful argument Robert as usual.

    • Alex, nice thoughts. I also believe that the application of knowledge to action bears on thinking skills.

      • Paul Anthony says:

        Yes! There is a big difference between knowledge and wisdom. Here's a good way to tell the difference:

        Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit.
        Wisdom is knowing not to use a tomato in a fruit salad.

  10. Sean Baltz says:

    I agree with this article a thousand times over.

  11. Scott theczech says:

    I try to make sure that when I pay my hard-earned money for education, I get educated. I want and need to be able to apply my learning. Perhaps this is one of the reasons I so enjoy Robert's articles; sound, practical and applicable learning!

  12. Robert Bonter says:

    Many of these egghead "experts" know nothing and care nothing about business, so philosophically opposed to the rewards which accrue from having a capitalistic, entrepreneurial work ethic and focus, they are. Like my late, not so great, university sociology professor step-father, who once confided in me: "You know Rob, I would never have a Mercedes Benz in my driveway."

    And of course he was not on speaking terms with his brother back in Ohio who became a millionaire thanks to his diligent, consistent and productive effort, over the years.

    Being advanced, academically, is no automatic link with success in life. The disconnect between the two, in fact, becomes apparent when a man has never invested 10 minutes in his lifetime in real world employment. An "expert" with no practical experience, in the realm of both success and failure? Can't be done!