Why Are You Still Looking For An Expert’s Opinion?

Sarah Goshman is a writer I’ve been keeping an eye on. She’s enthusiastic and open about her process. When she struggles, she shares that with you. And then she shares what she learns.

That’s the most effective writing there is, in my opinion. Here’s my story. Hope it helps.

Experts are Myopic

Sure, an expert has a ton of data. They’ve seen a lot of cases and know exactly what works …. statistically.

The problem with that is people are not statistics. Each and every person is, by definition, a statistical anomaly.

People learn best from people like them.

Or who are like they want to be. When this process is formalized, it’s called mentorship. But at a basic level, it’s just about learning best from people who you relate to; their situation, their process, their philosophy.

After I posted on my own patterns, Sarah commented to say that she would never have expected those to be places that I struggled. After all, she said, that was where she had learned the most from me.

That’s not a coincidence. Because I’ve been aware of, and working on my understanding of these patterns (and many others besides) for a long time, I have a lot of accumulated insight to share.

But it’s anecdotal. It’s not scientific.

However, it is very, very insightful. Because I’ve been studying my own process for a long time. No one knows it better than me. And if you relate to me, some of my experiences, certain parts of my processes, there’s a certain likelihood that you might gain some insight from it too.

Sharing insight like this is a collaborative endeavour.

I share it, and in explaining it, I often refine the concepts in my own mind.

Someone responds, sharing their own experience, and I gain there as well. Sometimes it even catapults me to a new level of understanding and insight.

Furthermore, we’ve just experienced a communal understanding, a bond of shared experiences.

But as powerful catalysts as these things are, they rarely just happen. You have to look for them.

You have to seek them in unexpected places.

When Leo Babauta started blogging a few years ago, he was deep into minimalism and alternative diets. He wasn’t very compelling to me. Now that he’s talking about the philosophy of simplicity, mindful living, and habits, he is very compelling. He’s where I want to be. But a few steps farther.

What’s more is, he took a different path to get there.

If I had looked at his body of work and said, “Oh, another minimalist. I have nothing to learn there,” I would have lost the opportunity for some amazing insights into the type of mindful living I want to do. So what if he eats vegan and lives out of a shoebox? He also walks the tightrope of doing exactly what he wants to do in a particular moment, without it interfering with his commitments. This man has some shit figured out. He has only committed to things he’s excited to do. He’s found a way to appreciate and embrace the things that he isn’t excited to do. He has arranged his life mindfully so that his focus is always on the things that are important to him. Not one person in a thousand can truthfully say they’ve done that, and I want to learn how.

Sebastian Marshall is crazy, almost berzerker-like. He took on Simon & Schuster and dared them to sue him after they yanked his chain one too many times. And you can see that, although he seems to try not to inflict his mania on other people, things will never truly be settled while he’s around. I think of him as being like fire: fascinating, potentially game-changing, but inherently dangerous and worthy of respect for that reason.

But I get so much insight from his writings, it’s phenomenal. He’s apolitical. Do you have any idea how rare that is? It means that when a pragmatic person sees that he’s embroiled in a game that’s bigger than himself, in a game he can’t win, a normal person will cut his losses and capitulate, maybe even change sides. Not Marshall. Certain defeat means nothing to Marshall, not if he believes his cause is just. He’ll just go out swinging.

Marshall gives me insight on how many of our arbitrary limits are simply political self-preservation. Look how much you’re not making waves! What are you afraid of? You don’t realize how much influence social pressure exerts until you see someone operating outside of it.

Embrace your Process

I just can’t emphasize this enough. Embracing your process is what primes you to learn. You can’t think critically, or compare and contrast other people’s data until you know where you’re coming from.

You can learn from people who are like you.

You can learn from people who are different from you.

You can learn from people who represent where you’re going.

You can even learn from people who represent where you’ve been.

But it’s harder than hell to learn from an “expert” who doesn’t share their own process with you. Context is everything. Data means nothing without heart.

If you found this post thought-provoking, please share it.


19 thoughts on “Why Are You Still Looking For An Expert’s Opinion?”

  1. What a fantastic post as always!You’re totally right about the ‘expert’ thing. I’m currently writing a series of online courses teaching people how to become online experts and sell their products and services to others. So I’m an expert on becoming an expert!!  That should make me an ÜBER expert right?!  Well I don’t feel like one most of the time!For example I just wrote a post on my blog about how I’m not using my time as efficiently as I should be and asking others to examine how they spend their limited time resources. I had a criticism on a forum for the way that I’d ‘admitted’ to not knowing how to do something and spending time trying to find out.  At first I was cowed. He was right – how unprofessional. How would anyone take me seriously as an expert if I didn’t have all the answers and was only learning myself?  But then I realized that actually it was BECAUSE of this that people would listen – they’d see that I’d been through all the struggles and frustrations and found the solution – and now I was sharing it with them! I don’t know – its a delicate balance between showing that you’ve been there and that you get it, and actually coming across as an authority figure. What do you think? 

    1. It’s a fine line to walk, absolutely. And personally, I’d rather err on the side of showing all my mistakes and having to field people saying “And why should I listen to you?” than to insist I’m an expert and that if people don’t listen to me they’re just dumb. 

      That said, it’s pretty tough to make a product about making products your first product right? It would be much more credible to write a product about time-management and then shortly afterwards write a short report on what you learned, aimed directly at the niche of first-time product writers, who probably find bigger, more detailed products on the subject overwhelming.
      Personally, I don’t need someone to be an authority figure to learn something from them. But I do need to hear their story so that I know where they got their knowledge. If your story checks out, then it doesn’t necessarily matter how you got the information, as long as it’s good information and you can teach people what to do with it. 
      I once met a woman whose entire story for being an inspirational speaker was that she’d seen a lot of inspirational speakers and she could teach those same lessons to others. That’s all the expertise she had! She didn’t have any original insights at all, she just created an outline of what she wanted to say (general stuff about following your dreams and so on) and fleshed it out with stories of her own and from other speakers. And that’s how she made her living. 
      That’s the living definition of a relative expert. A lot of people will gripe if you repackage something that people already know, but shit, what’s original these days? I put a premium on experience, though. In other words, don’t make money on the internet just by selling products telling people how to make money on the internet. I’m pretty sure that’s not a sustainable model 😉
      That comment was long enough to be a post of it’s own.
  2. “people will gripe if you repackage something that ‘people already know’ ” – Yep – and there are plenty of ‘commenters’ who will lose no time and spend many words telling you so, rudely, ta-boot!   But just because a loud grouch allegedly “already knows it”, doesn’t automatically meant that everyone really knows, or especially – *remembers* that they know!

  3. Thanks guys – these are really valuable and thought provoking comments!Following your own path and running your own service based business is a road of self discovery and hard knocks I’ve realized!  These last couple of weeks have  very much been   a learning curve for me!  I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable about my area of ‘expertise’ and really what I’m here on this earth to do.  Yesterday marked a turning point for me – a ‘letting go’. I’ve taken my website down and I’m completely reassessing what I want to do in my business and where I can add the most value in people’s lives. I’m passionate about supporting Moms in starting their own businesses and becoming successful entrepreneurs – but I’ve realized that this might not be what MY business needs to be about!  I think my skills and experience sit elsewhere. I’ve come to realise that you need to walk a fine line between doing something for long enough that you, by default become an expert, and searching for the thing you’re actually SUPPOSED to be doing!Let’s just say it’s still a work in progress!! Love this YouTube clip on this though – have you seen it? …http://m.youtube.com/index?desktop_uri=%2F&gl=US#/watch?v=PbC4gqZGPSY

    1. “I’m passionate about supporting Moms in starting their own businesses and becoming successful entrepreneurs – but I’ve realized that this might not be what MY business needs to be about!”
      “I think that’s a very valuable insight. I see this mistake again and again, and it always comes from an admirable place: showing people the how to find the same freedom you did. But it’s also kinda short sighted, and while it usually flows from a passionate place, it’s not usually the best use of your talents. If anything, it’s kind of like deciding you love the mission of the SPCA so much that you try to get on the board of directors, rather than just  supporting them in the ways that make the most sense to you.

      I hope you come back and let us know what you decide to do!
      1. Hi ShannaSo after much soul searching I’ve decided that somewhere along the line I’d wandered off track and I was trying to be something that I just wasn’t.  Consequently I’ve re-focused myself and my business and realized that my true skill is not in being a ‘business expert’ – but in coaching others to find the solutions they need for themselves!  I’m feeling FAR more comfortable with this path (which ironically is where I starting out over a year ago – but maybe you have to go through the journey to know that where you started out was the right position in the first place!)I’ve attached a link to my new website – it’s just the bear bones at the moment but it feels so much more authentic and I feel happier than I have with my business for months!Thanks for being there to help me get to this point.  You’re an ongoing inspiration! 

  4. @Vicki Childs ~ If you’re still around, could you find a link to this video that doesn’t go through a “mobile” app? My creaky old PC-with-XP (and creaky old brain) can’t decipher the address you posted… 🙁   Thanks.
    ~ Great insights, though, even without the video backup – and Happy Re-inventing to you!

    1. @Karen J  @Vicki Hi Karen!
      Yup I’m still here and still an avid reader of Shanna’s blog posts. (Oh but that one day I can get it down on paper the way she does! 😉
      Here’s a more user-friendly link I hope! 
      Tell me if you can’t get at it though and I’ll try a different approach.  It’s basically Ira Glass talking about the creative process.  I hope you like it. 
      Oh and the reinventing is done and was well worth the pain! 😉

      1. @VickiChilds  Thank you! That video is terrific – and I love Ira Glass! (‘This American Life’ is one of the most “driveway-moment”-inspiring programs evah!) (and it’s finds like this – and the whole outthebox.org website – that keep me “checking my email first thing in the morning”! )

      2. @VickiChilds  Hey – how ’bout a direct link to your site, here? Your name/photo goes to an empty Livefyre profile, which has a live FB link, which does have a live link to FissionCoaching, but that’s a mighty long way ‘around the barn’! 😉

      3. @Karen J Arrgh!  You’re totally right.  I’m still trying to get all my automated social media stuff sorted out so that it feeds back to my new website.  I’ve done it now though and my website address is:  http://businessbrilliancewithbalance.com
        I have to get over the British hesitation to promote yourself on someone else’s blog.  I think Shanna ROCKS and I wouldn’t want her to think I was taking advantage! 😉
        Thanks for the prompt though!

      4. @Karen J Oh that’s good to know.  I’ve got some material on StumbleUpon as well at http://www.stumbleupon.com/stumbler/VickiChilds/lists  I’m moving stuff over from Delicious right now so watch out for more cool stuff 😉

      5. @Shanna Mann I know.  I just hate it when people do the ‘interesting article – and now here’s a link to my …’  thing!! 
        I wouldn’t want you to think I was doing that!

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