Experts Wrong 10% of the Time

Are you an expert? If so, how does one become an expert? And if you aren’t, do you want to be an expert? Experts hold an interesting position in our society. There’s no one standard that establishes an expert. Someone can become an expert through schooling. Other experts gain knowledge through practical application. So what’s the big deal with experts? Why do we seek them out when we’re looking for answers to problems? (Man, I’m saying “expert” a lot.)

This seemingly random topic will make sense in a bit. Just a few more questions to rattle around. How many experts make groundbreaking discoveries? How many individuals not defined as experts stumble across the amazing and life changing?

Think back to how an expert becomes an expert. Exposure to certain ideas, acceptance of certain theories, become the foundation for expertise. However, does this foundation ever get in the way of seeing something that doesn’t currently exist? Aren’t the best inventors the insatiably curious, those who never stop searching for that better way and remain open to being wrong?

By default, hasn’t an expert picked a position, established a fortification to defend against all comers? Because isn’t that what makes him an expert? He has an opinion gained through his experience. What happens if he opens the drawbridge to possibility? Is he still the expert?

Experts have so much to lose if they are proven wrong. Non-experts, on the other hand, have everything to gain by discovering they were wrong and figuring out the right way. How many times have experts gotten in the way of progress? Gaston Bachelard said that, “The characteristic of scientific progress is our knowing that we did not know.” (link) How many experts do you know that acknowledge how little they know?

A recent search of Google for “expert” generated “about 231,000,000” results. Of that number, only 22,400,000 were associated with the word “wrong.” Granted, these results are far from scientific in any way. I do find it interesting that less than 10% of possible “expert” results are associated with “wrong.” Are experts really wrong only 10% of the time?

What’s Possible

Think about that number the next time you hear an expert say something can’t be done or shouldn’t be done. Expertise is valuable. But don’t let it over-rule your intuition, your belief that something can be better, even if it is different. Imagine what an expert might say if they were told the following:

  • You only have 24 employees
  • You only charge for your services in seven cities and for NYC broker listings, but allow all others free access
  • You serve 90 million pages a month
  • You don’t hold meetings

(Thanks for the numbers Rachel. She did an excellent write up on the Mesh Conference.)

Craiglist, the service that gives newspaper classifieds nightmares, exists in spite of refusing to maximize revenue, a probable no-no for most industry experts. Yet according to CEO Jim Buckmaster “that definitely is not part of the equation…It’s not part of the goal.” (link) And they’ve been profitable for almost ten years. Remember that the next time an expert takes the stage and starts explaining what can and can’t be done. It’s only impossible until it happens.



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June 2007
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