A recent set of events has me questioning what an expert really is. Is it someone who can talk a lot about a subject? Perhaps give presentations and webinars on it? Is it someone who can answer a fair amount of questions about the subject? Or is it someone who can apply their knowledge of the subject and show people how to do the same.
There are a lot of people out there today who claim to be experts. Before the financial crisis, there were a lot of experts talking about how great mortgage backed securities were. Before the Iraq war, there were a lot of experts saying there were definitely weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. We see them on TV, in the papers, and hear them on the radio. All these experts telling us what they think they know about their subject. But what happens when they are called on to apply their thinking? When they are asked tough questions, have their theories challenged, are asked to give a real example of their theory, or when reality strikes down their theory?
Suddenly, they grow quiet. They stop answering questions, or worse, make excuses for why they were wrong. And as a result, they have disappointed, duped, and deceived the very people who looked to them for guidance.
As an expert, you should not cannot pick and choose which questions or which challenges you answer. If you are not ready and willing to defend your thoughts and help those looking to you for guidance, then you are not an expert. You are merely someone who knows a lot about the subject.
I would like for you all to keep this in mind when someone claims to be an expert. When they give presentations but are unwilling to provide guidance. When your questions go not only unanswered but unreplied. If they are not willing to live up to the responsibilities of their status, then stop pretending to be one. Don’t waste our time.
I know some of you will say that when you become big and famous, it’s hard to answer every question that comes your way. Well, that’s the price you pay for success. Hire an assistant, create some response templates, use speech recognition… anything to make answering those questions easier. Experts have a responsibility to those who are not experts. Like superheroes, you can’t decide who to save; you do your best to save them all.