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The Expert Fallacy

This guest post is by Dan Meyers of Your Life, Their Life.

In general, most of our goals as bloggers center around becoming authorities on subjects—the kinds of authorities that others look to for advice.  What’s the title that usually comes with this position?  An “expert.”

There are some clear advantages to the title “expert” that are worthy of our efforts.  We can gain notoriety and traffic as we leverage our expertise to thoroughly educate everyone.  In fact, most people make a career out of their expertise, whether it’s in their normal daily job or in the blog world.

How can you become an expert?

Not an expert

Not an expert

  1. Read books.
  2. Interview people who’ve already done it.
  3. Just do it.

Most successful bloggers have used the formula above, along with some other steps, to get to where they are today.  “I don’t know how to do it” is never an acceptable answer for someone who is smart and ambitious enough to learn howto do it.

Steps 1 and 2 will allow you to gain knowledge on a subject, but you really must take step three and just do it.  It’s amazing how people start to view you differently when you have a blog on a subject.  The instant credibility isn’t always deserved, but it’s a great way to kick-start your business.

We can all become experts on a subject if we learn enough about it.  However, there are some clear dangers in becoming an expert—mostly dangers to yourself.  Expertise can bring with it an element of “all-knowingness” that begins to turn people off.  When you think you know it all, you often refuse to open your mind to outside ideas.

After all, even Einstein became so stuck in his ways that he wasn’t able to grasp the theory of quantum mechanics.  He held fast to the theory of relativity that he created, and couldn’t see beyond it.  Einstein wasn’t the only one stuck in his ways.  In his book, Influence, the Psychology of Persuasion, Stephen Gatto explains, “Invention is the providence of youthful insight.”

After we get stuck in our ways, it’s hard for our minds to continue to develop new ideas and adapt to new circumstances.  As the saying goes, to the man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

How do you know if your expertise is harming you?

  1. You think you have all of the answers.
  2. You don’t research or listen to anyone else.
  3. The only person who can stand hanging out with you is your dog.

What’s the ultimate solution to this catch-22?  You should strive to be seen as an expert to outsiders, but at the same time you must fight the urge to believe you’re an all-knowing expert.  This is easier said than done, because the more knowledgeable we become on a subject, the less we listen to other opinions or ideas.

How can we resist the urge to claim our expertise on a subject?

  1. Don’t let compliments go to your head.
  2. Realize you will never know it all.
  3. Focus on always learning and improving.

The keys to fighting the issues that come with expertise are continual education and an open mind.  It also helps to realize what people say about experts!

Stephen Gatto explains his view on expertise when he says, “(expertise) is a lie because the changing dynamics of time and situation and locality render expertise irrelevant and obsolete shortly after it is anointed.”  It’s pretty scary to think as soon as you become an expert, you become irrelevant!

Roseanne Barr said, “Experts say you should never hit your children in anger.  When is a good time?  When you’re feeling festive?”  I bet this is the first time Roseanne was quoted on ProBlogger.

Finally, Shunryu Suzuki said, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities.  In the expert’s mind there are few.”

Don’t let expertise limit you and your abilities.  I worked at a large consulting firm for seven years, which taught me how to continually change my area of expertise and adapt with the changing times, as explained in the post, “You are a now a Consultant.

Do you consider yourself an expert on your subject?  How do you prevent your expertise from crippling you?

Dan Meyers started Your Life, Their Life to help you take control of your life.  Read how he paid off $50,000 of debt in two years and how his strategies can help you.

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Comments

  1. Great philosophies. I just in awe with all the thoughts your shared here.

  2. Tim Barnes says:

    As an insurance professional I have been surrounded by self-proclaimed “experts” for 24 years. Every week I get an email from an internet marketing “expert” wanting me to hire them. It helps me to remember what I learned in high school science many decades ago.

    “X” is the symbol for the unknown. A “spurt” is a drip under pressure.

    I have learned a lot about insurance over the past 24 years. I have also learned a lot about the internet in the past few years. Perhaps the biggest thing that I have learned is that the more I learn, the more I find there is to learn.

    I know more about insurance than many people but I have learned that there is always someone who knows more than me. My clients may think that I am an expert but my peers know better.

    • Dan Meyers says:

      Tim – I can imagine the number of self-proclaimed experts in a sales related field such as insurance is quite overwhelming! That’s so great you’re focused on continual learning.

    • Ardorm says:

      Tim, having an experience of 24 years is really impressive! However, I do think that you are an expert. With such an experience, I bet you don’t even have to analyse most of cases that seem difficult to others; you just feel the right way to act.

      I think that the “Feeling” ability is the one that shows who is expert and who is not in every field. And the only way to gain it, is spending years learning. Now, the funny fact that those who have done so and are real professionals will never accept that they are experts. :)

  3. Faizan Elahi says:

    Continuous learning is relevant to nearly every field now due to the fast-changing world we live in today. To remain a n expert, one must keep updated with all the latest developments.

    • Dan Meyers says:

      Faizan – things are moving faster and faster so it makes it even more difficult to keep up. The key is to *try*!

  4. Michael says:

    I think it is essential to keep learning and studying. We can never know everything about a subject and this is always changing!

  5. Guy Hogan says:

    A professor of mine once told the class, “The only constant is change.”

  6. This post is well worth reading every few weeks, IMHO. The inherent problem with becoming an expert is that you often become bound by your own image of yourself. There really is no true expertise, we are all journeymen, learning how to live our lives.

    • Dan Meyers says:

      Thanks Ash! I like your points about getting bound to the image of ourselves and living as a journeymen who is always learning. We strive to be consistent even when consistency is foolish.

  7. Daniel says:

    Some good points, Dan.

    In life we are always learning something new(Well, we should be anyway).

    The worst thing is for someone to believe they have all the answers(This stunts growth).

    To quote a great little saying: ” Just when we think we know all of the answers, someone comes along and changes all of the questions”!

  8. Jonathan says:

    The other side to the expert fallacy is that we tend to assume experts in one field know a lot about other fields (e.g. Einstein was offered the presidency of Israel). Thinking that of yourself would be an even bigger trap.

    • Dan Meyers says:

      Great point – as Robert Cialdini said in Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion, “In many instances where a legitimate authority has spoken what would otherwise makes sense is irrelevant.” Make sure you’re not afraid to question experts!

  9. Drewry says:

    most bloggers today in the blogosphere became successful through trial and error. They got their feet wet by starting their blogging journey with little to no experience and messing up along the way in their blogging efforts. Along the way, aspiring bloggers gain useful experience in not only becoming better writers in their blogging endeavors, but, they also became the best bloggers in the long run and making the most money online from their blogging adventures. Like you said Darren, it’s best to start out by reading books, magazines, and other forms of educational literature, as bloggers can develop a creative idea of what they want to talk about in your blog posts, such as starting out in writing commentary about an article or page in a book that they’ve read, and write their unique words in commentating on what they felt about the literature they’ve read. It’s little humble beginnings like this that anyone can embark on in becoming “a blogging authority” as well as among “the blogging elite” of being a well respected blogger online! :-)

    • Dan Meyers says:

      It’s amazing how much my writing as changed in the last six months – and for the better I think! I’ve also formulated my thoughts and models much better. Persistence is important.

      • Drewry says:

        Dan,

        it’s amazing also how much one can get accomplished in six months time, as well as their improved writing ability. As time goes by that anyone, they naturally get better. Persistence is the key to success in life and business, as persistence also humbles anyone genuinely for the better :-)

  10. Dan, this is a fantastic post, thank you!

    I’m taking my first baby steps towards establishing myself as an expert in a very niche industry where I can’t afford to turn people off. Very practical advice.

    Have to point out though that Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion is written by Robert Cialdini, not Stephen Gatto. It’s one of my most leafed through books and that jumped out at me right away!

    • Dan Meyers says:

      Epona, thanks for the input! You get the gold star for today… I actually had the correct author but the incorrect book. The quote came from Weapons of Mass Instruction (also a great book).

      • Oh wow that looks awesome!

        Glad I mentioned something now, otherwise I never would have heard of Weapons of Mass Instruction – and I’m a nerd for learning about learning. Thanks Dan!

  11. Tania says:

    “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” Often, self proclaimed experts biggest weakness is they aren’t aware of how much they don’t know.

    My advice is to always take whatever you read with a grain of salt. That goes for traditional media as well, they get things wrong too, all the time.

  12. I spend my days with “experts” in various fields, and I see the good and bad that comes with expertise. Some people legitimately know everything about a subject, but don’t let them know that or else they will never let you forget that. Don’t be that guy. Know it all, don’t be a know it all. Be informative, but do not drive people crazy telling them you know the answer.

    • Dan Meyers says:

      Know it alls are definitely annoying! We should all keep that in mind as we continue our journey to becoming relevant.

    • Drewry says:

      I hear what you are saying. speaking on my behalf, I’d rather be a nobody and just give information freely to others, without digging myself up and being a [know it all]. this way, I’m not seen as someone who puts themselves on a pedestal or possibly arrogant…

  13. It takes a certain amount of hubris to declare yourself the expert at anything, but in order to get really good at anything, you actually have to put a lot of effort into it. Once you’ve gotten up to speed, it’s ok to say “I’m good at X”, but you should never think that “good” is enough. There’s always something else you can learn, and someone else you can learn from. The reality is that being the expert means that your expertise is a moving target – you have always push the envelope.

    • Dan Meyers says:

      Pushing the envelope is always the hardest part. It’s so much easier to get to a ‘comfortable’ spot where we are ok with calling it good enough. Thanks Jason!

  14. naijadotcom says:

    As the sayin goes,the day you stop learning is the day you die,i think being open to learning not just within our safe narrow world,but broadening our knowledge helps,you ll be amazed at how much information you can gather.

  15. Melvin says:

    Great points!
    When you got praises from other people you do tend to forget how was it during your early days of blogging. You’re starting to feel too confident without noticing that you’re just destroying what you’ve built up a few months back.

    Just don’t forget to keep your feet on the ground and that there are a lot of things that you can learn. Don’t stop just because you know a few of them. :)

    • Dan Meyers says:

      It’s crazy how a little praise can go straight to our heads… It’s human psychology and it happens to all of us. As you mentioned Melvin, we just have to keep our feet on the ground. It’s a good problem to have, and hopefully we all get to experience it as successful bloggers.

      • Drewry says:

        I gotta admit that has happened to me before too. We’re all human as you said and when we start feeling that way, adversity comes along and knocks us right back down, and reinstalls “humble pie” right back in us :-)

  16. Nikhil says:

    I probably don’t know enough, but I’d have to disagree about how soon genuine expertise gets obsolete. If that were the case, the expertise you acquire over jobs, degrees, post-graduate schooling, and other experience would not really be worth much. Whereas, as we can see in corporates, government agencies, and even non-profit institutions, genuine expertise is held in high esteem.

    That said, one must always keep up the good work of continual learning. No point in letting it go to the head. Again, that is easier said than done. You have spent years doing something and then someone comes along to tell you that you have been wrong all the while. Even if you are wrong, it can get mighty annoying.

    Practically speaking, expertise is the best tool with which to pass on the renewed knowledge of your generation to the next. Newer ideas, perspectives, insights, et al do matter, of course, and everyone must acknowledge as much, but please let us not look down upon expertise, for that matter.

    Thanks!

  17. Nikhil says:

    See? As amply evident in my previous comment, my comment definitely did not await moderation!

    I stand justified!! LOL :)

  18. Nicholas says:

    Like has been suggested in previous comments, remaining an expert is all about keeping up with the knowledge, trends and practices that are occurring in your field of expertise.

    I have sometimes found that there can be a fine line between an expert and a know-it-all. Where a know-it-all, even though they maybe highly qualified or experienced in their field, will beleive that their ideas, ways and practices are always the best, and only way to do things without giving much thought to what others may be suggesting or telling them. You highlight this point as well, “You think you have all the answers”
    But switch the attitude to someone who is open to changes, and you can tend to find that these people will begin to excel in their field. Someone who can say “I don’t know” when asked a question to the edge of or even directly in their field of expertise.

  19. Kerry Rego says:

    I struggle with being called an expert. There aren’t many words that get close to the description so I say “I’m smarter than your average bear” when I’m introduced as an expert in social media. I actually get embarrassed because I’m so aware of what I DON’T know that it feels obnoxious of me to accept that title. I guess there are worse problems. Thanks for writing what needed to be said. @kregobiz

  20. Gemma says:

    ‘Expert’ is just a label. Labels matter way too much.

    I once heard somewhere that to be considered as experts, we only need to know more about a given subject than our clients or audience do, (as opposed to actually having a lot of personal experience). This came from someone who was making the point that we should establish ourselves as experts to our clients.

    So when people claim to be an expert on something, I take that with a giant pinch of salt. When people claim to be an expert or a guru or whatever in their bios for example, I believe it’s mostly just ego talking.

    In my opinion, there’s no harm in highlighting your previous professional experiences and how long you’ve worked in an industry. This implies to others you know what you’re doing and you know what you’re talking about. But I believe it’s best to let people come to that conclusion through suggestion, rather than just flat out claiming that you’re an expert or a guru of this and that.

    That doesn’t mean bios should be a bloody essay! I can already think of one or two people who claim they’re experts and their bios are extremely long-winded and boring to read. They come across as being big-headed and full of it as a result, which personally is always very off-putting.