Experts - How To Use Them

May 20 07:18 2008 Steven Gillman Print This Article

We tend to think of experts as people to turn to for advice, but is that such a good idea?

Who and what are experts? Here is the dictionary definition: "A person with a high degree of skill in or knowledge of a certain subject." Experts know certain things,Guest Posting or know how to do certain things, but they don't know you. This points out the basic problem with habitually relying on expert advice and opinion.

Keep in mind that definition, especially the part about, "skill or knowledge of a certain subject." What is that subject? In the case of a doctor, it is "medical science as currently taught in medical schools." It is not "what is best for this particular patient," nor is it "health solutions outside the mainstream." This explains why many people (including myself) solve their own health problems even when regular doctors have no workable solution.

Have you noticed how an authority on stocks can be certain you should put your money in stocks, while a real estate expert will be sure you should invest in a rental? Neither is very likely to see from the other's perspective, nor are they going to ask enough questions to really know which path is best suited for you. Yet they do know what they are talking about when they stick to their subjects. It's just that their subjects do not include "what is best for this particular person according to all of his or her skills, goals, values and situation."

Experts don't know you! Don't ever abdicate your mind to their ideas about what is right for you. If there was an expert on cars, with all the knowledge possible, could he walk up to you as a stranger and say for certain which car is right for you? Can a doctor - even one who knows every treatment possible for your arthritis - know for sure which will be best, or balance the possible options against other factors, like your lifestyle or what the cost and inconvenience of each treatment would mean to you? In the end, with the wisest experts available, you still have to make up your own mind.

The Care And Use Of Experts

What do we need experts for then? Information and skill. It is my decision what to do about my broken computer, but I need to know what my options are, so I ask someone who knows more than I. And should I decide to fix it rather than replace it, I'll certainly pay to have it done by an expert. Use them for their skills and knowledge, but don't think they know what you should do. That is your decision.

If you watch, you'll notice that experts are often very limited or biased in their thinking. Encourage them to share their knowledge, but be aware that they are not necessarily very skilled when they go beyond their expertise. This is especially clear when they try to predict things.

A contractor I know has a ton of knowledge about construction of all sorts, yet consistently underestimates the time a project will take. A mechanic I know can tell me what it will take to repair my car, and the cost, but always guesses too low for the latter. Remember that these people are experts in their subjects, but their expertise doesn't include prognostication.

Now, to use their knowledge in these cases, we can make adjustments. For example, I know very little about construction costs, so I ask the contractor for a best guess and then add 30%. This gets me far closer to the real costs than either his own estimate or my uninformed guess would be. I do the same in the case of the mechanic. I ask what it will likely cost and then add $150 to that.

The idea here is to adjust for the known tendencies of "authorities" in order to predict the future better than they can. You may already do this with a friend who is always late. That friend certainly should be more of an expert about herself than you, yet you can add ten minutes to her estimated time of arrival to more accurately predict it.

That is just one of the tricks to properly using experts. This is not about denigrating their knowledge and skill, but about tapping into it in better ways. Here are some questions to ask when gathering "authoritative advice" or information about something:

- What would other experts say?

- What things about you or your situation are not clearly known by this authority?

- What biases or known tendencies are apparent in their thinking?

Respect people for their knowledge, so they know they are appreciated and feel inclined to be helpful. But respectfully decline the suggestion that experts know what is best for you in a given situation. You have your own mind for a reason.

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Steven Gillman
Steven Gillman

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