Beware of the mythical power of experts and gurus…

Posted by on February 20, 2013 in Blog | Comments Off on Beware of the mythical power of experts and gurus…

Beware of the mythical power of experts and gurus…

It’s all too easy to bow to experts and gurus to the extent that we feel inadequate. We will limit our options and opinions because so-and-so guru said something that we took to be true simply because he’s an expert. We then imbibe their opinions or ideas into our thought framework and become trapped.

There are a number of problems with expertise.

As Gladwell wrote in Outliers:

The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice surfaces again and again in studies of expertise.

Gladwell suggested 10,000 hours was the minimum. Although this has been disputed as a myth, there is no question that expertise requires a lot of time spent in pursuit of a subject. What this tells us is that expertise is mostly singular. It’s unlikely that an expert in one field has anything useful to say in another. In other words, expertise is seldom elastic. Polymaths are rare.

Yet, we are all too happy to latch onto the latest opinion of so-and-so expert even when he or she is talking about subjects outside of his or her expertise. Actually, it’s more likely that we are allowing the “cult of the personality” to affect our own thinking and judgement.

The Web is full of “expert advice” from start-up gurus who will trumpet their opinion about how to succeed. Most of the time, their opinions can hardly be called expert ones unless they’ve had multiple successes by mastering the same methods. Such examples are almost impossible to find.

Sure, a guy who spent his life taking photos can probably tell you how to get a shot. A guy who built 100 iPhone apps will probably tell you a thing or two about optimisation and common bugs. He might even tell you a thing or two about app store optimisation, though I doubt it will amount to much.

The real pitfall to watch is when you’re asking an “expert” what to do in order to make a life-direction decision, like starting a business, moving jobs, finding satisfaction in what you do, raising kids and all those other things where real expertise is rare and the reason for asking an “expert” is usually lack of self confidence, or some other fear.

Sheldon Kopp laid it all bare in his psychotherapy book “If You Meet the Buddha on the Road: Kill Him!

His thesis was to remind us that the guru we seek is only human like us, full of faults and uncertainties, proclivities and every other human ailment. They can only lead us to what we probably know already, to answers within, answers that we fear to give the light of day they deserve.

Kopp says:

Therapists do not and cannot give answers. Explore the true nature of the therapeutic relationship, and realize that the guru is no Buddha. He is just another human struggling.

In my now 23 years (and easily more than 10,000 hours) of being in the blessed position of working in and around innovation, I have noticed only one constant. What separates the non-expert innovator from the expert is only the willingness to try.

The greatest barrier to innovation is simply that folks don’t give themselves permission to innovate. They are held back by the myth of expertise – their supposed lack of it or their fear of it in others. When it comes to innovation, there is no such thing. We are all innovators.


Subscribe to Paul Golding's posts and other provocative content by email