Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Experts and Expertise

Expert and expertise. Common words, but....how do we use them or react to them? Let's start with Dictionary.com definitions:

Expert: noun
1. a person who has special skill or knowledge in some particular
field; specialist; authority: a language expert.

3. possessing special skill or knowledge; trained by practice; skillful or skilled (often fol. by in or at): an expert driver; to be expert at driving a car.

Expertise: –noun
1. expert skill or knowledge; expertness; know-how: business expertise.
2. a written opinion by an expert, as concerning the authenticity or value of a work of art, manuscript, etc.

Those definitions seem clear enough. But, as with many words, there can be an understory. Some excess baggage. Who decides who the experts are? If you have expertise, are you an expert? And if you are an "expert" are you finished, complete?

There are experts who have had lots of experience or knowledge. They have been recognized by many as an expert in their field. But, again, what does this mean? Does it mean they have learned all there is to know? That all they can do is convey their wisdom to others? That their learning phase is over? There are people who seem to act as if this is true. These are the experts who are the most dangerous, to themselves and to others.

The danger comes from two sources. First, a lack of humility. And secondly, the danger of standing still while the world keeps moving forward. Humility is essential. No matter how much success we acheive, or accolades we receive, if we don't maintain enough humility, we will be closed off from further growth.

I once had a boss who would joke about "atta girl's" and "aw sh$@'s." According to his math, one "aw sh$@" would wipe out ten "atta girl's". And "what have you done lately" is just as important, if not more so, than how many "atta girl's" you have racked up in the past. This is part of how humility gets acted out in life. We enjoy the "atta girl" when it happens, but we also recognize it is ultimately fleeting. We will make mistakes. And those mistakes will cost us to some degree. But it is essential that we keep moving forward, and performing. Doing the best we can. "Atta girl's" have expiration dates.

The label of expert can become synonymous with perfect. But perfect is static. We need to continuing to work to improve, even if we are considered an expert. Because we will never know enough about anything. We will always have room to grow and learn. Discoveries will happen outside our little world. The number of nuances and details are infinite. And by learning, we are open to the expertise of others. We can recognize that others can help us grow and deepen our knowledge. Wearing the mantle of expert can close us off to others.

By admitting we can still learn and grow, we are stronger than if we feel we have reached the pinnacle, having scaled Mt. Expert. Pinnacles have only one way to go....down. I think I would prefer to be continuing to work towards deepening and expanding my knowledge and experience. Let's celebrate and share our mutual expertise. And I for one, tend to be wary around anyone proclaiming to be an expert.


harriett said...

Fantastic post!Some very important truths, here. I am also leery of "experts".

Christie said...

Excellent post! **clapping from the cheap seats** :)