Question 13 of 365: What does it mean to be an Expert?

In a world where the network is what matters, where being able to tap into knowledge that is distributed and widespread is valued, what does it mean to be an expert? Just because we can figure out the answer to most of our every day questions by googling them or by asking them of our friends and followers, does that mean that having individual experience and knowledge does not matter? Is being an expert today the same as just knowing an expert in years past?

Maybe.

Yet, there is something about actually having the understanding yourself. There is something to being able to call up information and theories and research within your own head and create a synthesis of where to go next on the spot. I have a deep respect for all those who know their stuff and can create something new out of their experience. I believe that the power to rip away any BS from what you are looking at is in knowing the truth for yourself. And so it could be that only when expertise is tested that you can see what it truly is. That is why it is still so important to know who is an expert and who is a pretender. I still need to be able to rely on the people who do have something to offer of themselves rather than those who are simply offering up their network or remixing other’s ideas by 1 degree. I believe that in a world of wikipedia, true expertise is in short supply.

So, how can we put expertise to the test? Walking up to a PhD and asking them about their work isn’t exactly going to yield the results I am looking for. I also can’t just say that I know expertise when I see it. There must be a good way to tell who it is that knows what they need to.

Perhaps there is a question that can be designed, one that will test the very nature of “knowledge” within the person. The question should be something that requires you to justify your position, to show that you believe what you believe for a reason. “Who do you think you are?” doesn’t have quite the right level of nuance. And, “What is your truth?” is really an existential mess that I think would cause more confusion than anything else.

A Curriculum Vitae is supposed to do this for us. The list of accomplishments in a resume is supposed to have the same affect. A blog perhaps is the digital equivalent of someone attempting to state their knowledge. But, I want a way to weed out the spam. Surely, even in the best Curriculum Vitae, there is some filler, some padding, some spam.

The one sticking point of my argument (although I should probably leave it to others to find those) is that becoming an expert requires experience, it requires living through and telling the stories of how you got from point A to point B. So, perhaps there is no better question than “What is your story?”.

If they have a story that is worth listening to, that really does reveal their expertise then they could be considered an expert. On the flip side, anyone who is not willing to tell their story cannot be an expert. They can be knowledgeable and even wise, but without sharing their wisdom, their expertise cannot be established. Telling your story is the test of your expertise. It is how you show the world that you are who you say you are.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

0 Comments

  1. For sure, having others tell your story for you makes you “seem” like more
    of an expert. However, I would make the case that other people probably will
    see you as an expert in different things than you actually are. They are
    retelling your story wrong, for the most part. The only way to have
    expertise is to publish it and share it widely.

  2. This came up today in class to some extent. One of my students contended,
    and I agreed, that you can't tell someone's story wrong. All we have to tell
    a story is the story we know.

    I'm back to the original question. It used to be that being featured in the
    news or by the government locked you in as an expert. With those estates
    tarnished, we look to community.

    I get that the de-centralization of control makes it squishy. All of a
    sudden, we realize the truly subjective nature of expertise.

    I can publish and share my version of the story. I don't know that I'd then
    be an expert. If we're connecting intellect (emotional or otherwise) to
    expertise, I'm going to turn to F. Scott Fitzgerald – “The test of a
    first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind
    at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”

    Expertise, then, doesn't seem the ability to tell a story, but to know many,
    often contrasting, stories and to be able to pull from them what the
    situation demands.

    Expertise is plurality of ideas.

    Maybe.

  3. Hmm… sounds like a pretty good blog post, if you were going to write those
    kinds of blog posts anymore.

    I have always said that my greatest value to an organization was in being
    able to create a synthesis of ideas and tools. It is my ability to weave
    together many stories into a coherent narrative.

    That is the kind of story that makes us an expert, not the telling of our
    own experience. It is in framing our own experience in terms of others. It
    is in doing the research and then being able to come out on the other side
    with something useful.

    Plurality of ideas, yes. But also, synthesis of thought.

  4. Hmm… sounds like a pretty good blog post, if you were going to write thosernkinds of blog posts anymore.rnrnI have always said that my greatest value to an organization was in beingrnable to create a synthesis of ideas and tools. It is my ability to weaverntogether many stories into a coherent narrative.rnrnThat is the kind of story that makes us an expert, not the telling of ourrnown experience. It is in framing our own experience in terms of others. Itrnis in doing the research and then being able to come out on the other sidernwith something useful.rnrnPlurality of ideas, yes. But also, synthesis of thought.

Leave a Reply