ON REAL PROBLEMS, NEW PROFESSIONS AND SELF-PROCLAIMED EXPERTS
Scrolling down on my LinkedIn feed the other day, I noticed that I am probably going to live a great life.
So many of my contacts are experts in something, that if I have a problem - any kind of problem - there will be an expert there that I can consult. Marketing experts, branding experts, business experts. Parenting experts, sleep experts. A couple of them are experts in being an expat. I wonder what that means about their legal status.
I do understand why people want to brand themselves as experts. It establishes authority. It comes with prestige. It conveys “I can solve your problems”, which is a close cousin of “I deserve your money”.
TO BE HONEST, WE ALSO NEED EXPERTS. WE NEED THEM TO SOLVE REAL PROBLEMS. THEY ARE THE PEOPLE WHO ARE SUPPOSED TO RECRUIT THEIR CAPACITIES AND EXPERIENCE TO PROVIDE US WITH USEFUL TECHNOLOGIES, LIFE-SAVING VACCINES, AND SO FORTH.
Two phenomena changed our relationship with expertise in the past few decades:
Academic inflation: it's easier than ever to get a degree, even multiple degrees, plus a few certificates - yet, without receiving proper professional training. For centuries, the definition of an expert was being an academic in a field. Now, we are in a place where everyone can easily become an academic, without necessarily being provided with the tools needed to solve real problems.
The rise of new professions (for example, Innovation Officers) or hybrid professions (for example, UX/UI specialist) which don’t rely on a clear, unified theory. Many people might be practising these professions, some of them might be defining how those professions work without having anyone to learn from - just because there is no body of knowledge they can learn how to do what they do from.
In other words, we have experts without skills and professionals without a clear profession.
I am not saying that it’s bad. Well, the first half probably is bad - it turns the academic world into a research-oriented bubble that doesn’t necessarily serve society. But overall, we see that the role of expertise in society is different than what it was.
It once was an absolute authority that is consulted because of their unique knowledge, after years, if not decades, of learning and practicing.
Today the expert can:
Claim their own expertise without any formal training. It can be a scam, but it can also be a young professional who has been experimenting since high school with all sorts of digital media, and that can therefore have a deep understanding of how social media works and how it can serve a firm.
Be an expert only in a very narrow niche, which serves a very specific audience - but for that audience, that expertise is exactly what they need in order to get rid of their worries.
Be useful without being standardized. An academic expert in Beethoven knows what language, context and criteria are needed to provide a professional review of Beethoven’s work. Quite differently, a parenting coach might draw their understanding from a degree in developmental psychology, a certificate in coaching and hundreds of interviews with struggling parents. Their insights might prove to be incredibly useful, yet quite different from another parenting coach who might be as helpful through a significantly different approach.
The price for having a legitimate decentralized model of expertise is that an expert today needs to prove that they can recruit their expertise to solve new problems, continuously. We trust plumbers, psychologists, web programmers to make some stuff (sink/mind/website) work also if the problems they are facing are brand new - because of new technologies, new kinds of trauma, new malware, etc.
OLD SCHOOL EXPERTS HAD THE PRIVILEGE TO HAVE A STATIC BODY OF KNOWLEDGE, THAT WOULD SERVE THEM UNTIL RETIREMENT. NEW GEN EXPERTS HAVE TO CONTINUOUSLY PROVE THAT THEY ARE NOT OUTDATED.
The only way to do so is to maintain a lifelong practice of learning, practicing, and re-learning from their own (and others’) practice. Expertise is today, more than ever, the sum of your capacities, forged and amplified by your experience.
It’s your ability of translating complex, abstract laws and models in best practices that serve your professional practice, your clients and your society.
It probably doesn’t come with that sense of reverence that old school gurus used to have, but it’s much more malleable, useful and rewarding.