In fallout from the Brexit vote, you might have noticed the idea of the expert thrown into the gutter. Politician Michael Gove recently said “I think people in this country have had enough of experts.” And a recent poll of marketers suggested that a majority of marketing professionals don’t believe you need to train as a marketer to be one. It’s fair to say it’s been a rough month if you believe studying something is better than not bothering.
But actually, the reason we really like experts is a bit more complicated than that. Let me explain.
He makes it look easy! She’s brilliant! They’re experts!
David Beckham was one of the most celebrated footballers in the world. Over the course of his career he helped loads of teams win matches through his ability to take free kicks better than most other footballers. By all accounts, David Beckham was an expert in kicking a ball.
But while Beckham scores with his free kick technique 49 times out of 50, you or I would probably struggle to hit the target more than a handful of times. So what is the difference between us and the so-called expert?
As you know, expertise comes from a mix of hard work, good luck and skill. A chef spends hours honing their ability to create interesting and exciting meals. A doctor spends years at medical school before they tell you what pills you should take. As the economist John Kay says, expertise is in fact a finely tuned ability.
What ability does
An expert reduces lots of variables down to the most important stuff. This allows them to filter out all the unimportant stuff to make a good decision for you. That could be the chef deciding what ingredients to use, or Beckham working out where to place his next free kick. Thinking clearly like this means they can often reach the highest levels of their practice.
“Being an expert does not mean that you are someone with a vested interest in something; it means you spend your life studying something. You’re not necessarily right – but you’re more likely to be right than someone who’s not spent their life studying it.” Brian Cox
But even this isn’t the real reason expertise is so valuable. What makes expertise so compelling is the risks on both sides of the agreement. This is because you value the unselfish things people do to help you. Studying a subject for years is just one example of this.
When you meet an expert, they have taken some risks to get where they are. When they offer their skills to you, they could lose their reputation if they get it wrong. That risk builds a trust between the expert and you. But risk is a two way street. You are managing your own risks by using an expert. If you dragged the first person you found off the street and said “cook me a meal,” there is a chance it will be OK. But there is also a chance that this person doesn’t know anything other than how to open a ready meal packet. You could of course hire a chef. Because business (like life itself) is based on trust between two parties, a joint risk seems much fairer, and with a higher chance of success.
Why we really need an expert…
This is why I would be silly to buy an expensive camera and tell you I am a photographer. I have no proof that I have taken a risk. A professional will also have the kit, but they also have a wealth of knowledge about lighting, angles, shutter speeds and more. So instead of being a risk, spending money on a professional becomes an investment that can actually pay you back over and over again.
So although expertise is getting a bad press right now, it may not last. This is because we all have a tendency to overestimate ourselves. I’m sure you heard about the study about driving ability? Well, it turns out that we are likely to consistently rate ourselves as better than other drivers, regardless of our actual ability! Another study showed that the British public were “wrong about nearly everything.”
So when I need something doing that I can’t do, I look for experts. Whenever I want some code writing, I talk to an expert. If I need some photos taking, I speak to an expert. If I need some copywriting drafting, I go to an expert.
After all, they are risking their reputation as well as me.