January 16, 2023
by Jeffrey Ian Ross
We live in a complicated world. It’s often hard to know what to believe and whose advice to trust. One way we make sense out of the confusion and improve our lot in life is by depending upon experts, and the advice they give.
These individuals (and organizations) typically have domain knowledge, experience, and relevant skills that they can use to assist people and organizations on whose behalf they work.
When thinking about experts, we can ask at least eight interrelated questions.
• What is an expert?
• How does one become an expert?
• How do we evaluate experts?
• Are some experts better than others?
• Does domain expertise carry from one situation to another?
• Why do individuals and organizations use experts?
• What types of advice do experts give?
• Once experts give advice, is it adopted, and how is it used?
That being said, many of us know or have experienced individuals and entities that are frequently unable or unwilling to identify or use the services of experts. It might even be us. (For example, almost everyone knows someone, a relative, co-worker, or boss, who is all too willing to play amateur skilled tradesman and with predictable results). Not only can this situation can frustrate people who take this kind of approach, but it can have ramifications for those who are close to the entity (e.g., family members, employees, etc.), and the customers and clientele that the person or organization is supposed to serve.
More commonly the projects and initiatives end up operating at a suboptimal levels or even failing, resources (e.g., money, time, loyalty, trust in the leadership and organization, etc.) are wasted, and people involved get exhausted and become cynical.
Sometimes failure to enlist the services of experts can lead harmful and negative consequences too (e.g., buildings falling down, spread of disease, etc.).
In extreme cases people may be injured or die, and communities decimated if experts are not consulted and the advice they give is not accepted and acted upon in a timely manner.
Why people and organizations don’t use experts when they truly should?
Similar to above, there are a numerous logical, scientifically sound, and interrelated reasons why people and organizations don’t use experts when they truly should. And just because a person has a university education, from a respected institution of higher education, does not prevent them from failing to seek out expert advice.
First, the entity may be suffer from the Dunning-Krueger effect (i.e., overestimating one’s knowledge and/or one’s skills), through.
Second, they suffer from the illusion of explanatory knowledge (i.e., when people think they know the causes of something but really don’t). (Similar to people who assume that their lived experience is sufficient to understand a problem or situation).
Third, they are lazy. They can’t be bothered with doing the hard work of identifying and vetting possible experts.
Fourth they are cheap. The person/organization may go as far as to identify one or more experts, but when they find out how much they charge they experience sticker shock, and either creatively ignore the problem or challenge, hope that it goes away, and do the job themselves.
Fifth, they don’t know how to go about finding and evaluating experts.
Sixth, they may not be aware of the expert’s credentials or expertise on a particular topic. (This can be tied to not understanding or appreciate the expert’s field thus may not appreciate the value of their insights).
Seventh, even if the entity knows about the expert’s qualifications, they may not agree with the person’s opinion or advice and thus not utilize their abilities.
Eighth, their biases or preconceived notions prevent them from considering the expert’s perspective.
Ninth, they may be overwhelmed by the amount of information and advice they receive, and as a result, they may not have the resources to carefully consider all of it.
Tenth, they may have a conflict of interest with the expert.
Eleventh, they may influenced by misinformation or propaganda, and may be more likely to ignore experts who provide evidence or facts that contradict their beliefs.
Twelfth, experts may be seen as a threat to the power or authority of people or organizations, and may be ignored or dismissed as a result.
Thirteenth, they don’t know how to identify or judge the quality of experts.
Finally, they may also be under a time crunch. For example, when a person is choking and turning blue in the face, they don’t have the time to go on the internet to chose an appropriate medical professional. In this moment of distress they need someone immediately and anyone will do.
How do we get people and organizations to use and implement the advice of experts?
There are no universal or widely accepted methods to get people and organizations to use the services of experts, and use varies from one situation to another and one recipient of the information to another.
But there are some general guidelines that “experts” have suggested to encourage adoption of their services. These include:
Build trust: Provide important assistance over a significant period of time.
Communicate effectively: Package the information in a manner that is easy for the audience to understand.
Address concerns and objections: Predict possible negative reactions to your advice and respond in a timely fashion when these crop up.
Provide support and resources: Similar to the role of mentors, assist individuals and organizations implement the expert advice you provide them.
Show the benefits: Don’t be content with outlining how failure to take expert advice will negatively impact the individual or organization, but carefully explain how the advantages that your expertise will positively impact the entity.
Use incentives: Give the individuals and organizations some sort of a benefit (e.g., discounted rate over time), or positive attention (e.g., list them on your website as one of your success stories) ; and
Lead by example: Explain and show the entity how you and your organization have benefitted by following your advice.
Convincing people and individuals that they need to go beyond folk explanations and remedies, and consult one or more experts (and take their advice) is not easy. And in many respects this is the harder task.
In the future, it may be helpful to identify situations that are more likely to require the use of experts (i.e., how to best respond to the COVID-19 pandemic), and one’s that are less necessary (i.e., what to eat for breakfast).
In this context we might want to create rubrics or heuristics that we can implement very quickly. To minimize poor decision-making in this context.
Title: The Three Stooges