You’re better than an expert.

You’re better than an expert, you know.

I realize you may have lived your whole life and never heard a notion like that directed at you, so I don’t blame you if your first reaction is skepticism. Hear me out.

We live in a world that values authority. You might even say we worship it. We like it because “authority” is the final word on the subject. It ends the discussion.

Of course, it doesn’t always work. Don’t like your diagnosis? Get a second opinion! Don’t like the way a case went? Appeal!

We even do it when we’re not even realizing it. The salesman says, “This is the TV for you!” and you say, “I’m just going to shop around some more, thanks.”

In some situations we still realize that we’re better than the experts.

But somewhere along the line, we stop applying this autonomy. We kind of just… defer. Occassionally, we will override our own instincts because our position isn’t the same as the experts’.

We don’t give ourselves enough credit.

A client of mine (call him Tom) was telling me about his studies of body language. It’s not an academic field that he’s involved in, he’s not a scientist. But this is an area of study he’s devoted quite a bit of time to, and he’s about to invest in a course to get certified to practice the techniques as a professional body language interpreter.

He was very, very excited about it, telling me all about the guy who designed the course, how hard it was to get into, how much previous training you have to have demonstrated.

“Is that the guy from Lie to Me?” I asked.

“Paul Ekman? No, he does mostly facial expressions. Micro-expressions, they’re called,” Tom said, “This guy, he’s actually more about the feet than the face. Or even the whole lower body. He says that people can learn to mask their facial expressions, but they normally don’t learn to control the rest of their body, so you get better information from that.”

He gave me some examples, and talked a little bit about how he planned to use his training.

I said, “It seems to me like most people don’t even bother to school their features. I know I don’t. I have a terrible poker face. Couldn’t you use both techniques, and maybe test them to see what works in which situations? I mean, yeah, these guys are experts. And they clearly each developed techniques that work.”

In response, Tom gave about six examples, comparing the strengths and weaknesses of each technique.

“That’s what I mean,” I said, “You can see the weak points and drawbacks already. And as you hone your craft, you’ll only get better at it. So use that. Figure out what technique works when, or work out a way to tell which will work better on what person. You don’t need to stop where your training ended. You can see the bigger picture better than either of the experts.”

Why We Give Away Authority

The thing about authority is that we believe it can only be granted. Someone comes along to give you authority, and from that annointed state your opinions are now worthwhile.

Of course that never happens. You take authority, by taking a position. And some people will believe and trust you, and some people won’t. You didn’t change. Your position didn’t change. Nothing changed except you owning the idea that you have a decent head on your shoulders, and you don’t need to neccesarily need someone to tell you what the right thing is. You’re perfectly capable of figuring it out on your own.

The only problem with authority is that it makes you vulnerable to criticism. You, personally. Your beliefs. Your values. Your decisions. The buck stops with you.

And some people don’t want that authority. Or they can’t be bothered to do the research. Consumer reports says that’s the right car? Alright, I get that one then. My business should have a social media presence? I don’t know what that is, but I’ll get that too. My mom says I should get a degree in engineering. That pays well, right?

But then, those people are the ones who are riding for a fall. And they’re the ones who’ll cry the loudest when it all goes south. “It’s not my fault!”

You’re better than an expert. If only because you’re the one who has to deal with the consequences of your decisions.

[ssbp]

5 thoughts on “You’re better than an expert.”

  1. I read this blog post after finishing On War. One passage seems applicable:

    “Ordinary men who follow the suggestions of others become, therefore, generally undecided on the spot; they think that they have found circumstances different from what they had expected, and this view gains strength by their again yielding to the suggestions of others. But even the man who has made his own plans, when he comes to see things with his own eyes will often think he has done wrong. Firm reliance on self must make him proof against the seeming pressure of the moment; his first conviction will in the end prove true, when the foreground scenery which fate has pushed on to the stage of War, with its accompaniments of terrific objects, is drawn aside and the horizon extended. This is one of the great chasms which separate CONCEPTION from EXECUTION.”

    One can study all his life and learn many useful things. But there is a limit to collecting advice and theory. The execution stage is where you must synthesize your learning and experience into your own ideas.

    1. That’s a great quote. I know that I get such a tremendous value to analysis and synthesis and it drives me crazy when people don’t value their own judgement highly enough to do it. 

      Everyone has an opinion in politics, but if you ask them how they decided to fund their retirement, most can’t tell you.

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