Don't Trust the Experts

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When to Use Experts

After watching this TED talk about the fact that experts are often just as fallible as the rest of us (usually with more dire consequences), I got to thinking about the implications of being willing to rely on our own decision-making abilities.

Obviously, the reason we even have experts is to absolve us of the difficulties of making really complex decisions but, as the presenter pointed out, we have gotten to the point where we look for experts in literally everything we do.

Want to know how to raise your baby? There are lots of baby-gurus out there who will tell you just the right way to do it. Want to know how to organize your workspace? Hire a personal organization expert. Want to know how to manage your life? There are lifestyle design experts who will do it for a small fee.

The truth is that these 'experts' are really just regular people like you and me who either have a bit more confidence in their ability to make a decision, or are better at faking it. They might not actually have better abilities than us; they simply believe they do and are able to convice us of the same.

The problem with experts is twofold.

First, experts are usually granted their elite status through membership in some larger organization, and only so long as they parrot the party line. CrossFit is a great example of this. There are famous examples of HQ bringing in outside experts, only to unaffiliate with them when their opinions went against the official dogma (namely that CrossFit was the end-all-be-all of fitness programs). What started as a fitness program taking the best from whatevever works has become a self-contained, self-verifying system.

Most experts are experts simply because their opinions are in line with their certifying authority or the majority opinion.

The second problem with experts is that they themselves feel they cannot be wrong or express uncertainty. Nobody know anything with 100% certainty. But when you go to the doctor, you expect them to give you an answer with 100% certainty. If they don't you go to another doctor. We don't go to doctors to tell us they don't know what's wrong with us.

The result is that experts will often express certainty when in reality they have no idea of the actual solution to a problem.

How to be a Non-Expert

So what are we to do? Must we become experts ourselves in every aspect of life?

I don't think so. I don't think expertise is necessary in every aspect of life. I think there are two things we can do, however, to make this problem much less of an issue.

The first is trust ourselves more, be willing to take risks, deal with uncertainty and doubt, and draw our own conclusions. Nobody knows your life situation better than you yourself. Nobody knows what methods work best for you than you yourself.

When it comes designing your own life, most people don't really know where to start. They don't have any idea what kind of systems to use, workspace organization, filing system, or design aesthetic. The reason is simply a reluctance to sit down and think about what works and what doesn't. When I designed my own workout program, I had to sit down and think about it, write it out, test it, and tweak it as I went. That apparently made me an expert, but anyone can do it if they are just willing to try things on themselves. Most people organize their files one way, never try something else, and never find out if something else might work better. Or they hire an expert to do it for them.

The second thing we can do to fix the problem is, as the TED talk presenter pointed out, ask a lot of questions. If doing so earns you the ire of your doctor or trainer, you might want to see someone else. When I hire an expert to train me in martial arts or gymnastics, I do so with the attitude that I need to understand their decision-making process so I can use my knowledge without them to guide me in the real world. So I ask questions. My goal is to assimilate their knowledge.

Experts that resent this are insecure in themselves. They think is others understand the reasoning behind their decisions, they won't need the expert anymore. So they guard their secrets with fancy words or labels, or an unapproachable attitude characteristic of old-school Kung Fu masters.

Basically, it comes down to this. Own your life. Don't hire it out to others. Make your own decisions and your own mistakes. If we rely on experts too much, we forget how to run our own lives, and we became skittish about making even small decisions. Figure things out for yourself. It might take you a little longer, but you'll gain much more useful experience and when something breaks or needs adjustment, you will be able to fix it on your own.

It's about independant living.

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Fight on, Brave Warriors,

- (**