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The Curse of the Expert
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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Ah yes, the expert. Or the subject matter expert (SME), if we wanted to be specific.

There are several definitions of an "expert," but the definition many people like to run with is the more recent one mentioned by Malcolm Gladwell that states that if you dedicate your time to a specific activity for at or more than 10,000 hours, you would be considered an expert of that field.

But is being an expert all it’s cracked up to be?

Well, yes and no. When it comes to getting business, especially in the marketing and advertising industry, having people vouch for you, calling you an "expert," is an excellent selling point. Writing articles, white papers, and being interviewed are ways agencies and marketing professionals separate themselves from the rest of the field.

But several recent studies have shown a downside to being called an expert. The researchers behind the organization Hidden Brain have shown that those people who are called experts give or provide advice based on own conjectures or opinions rather than science and facts. And Freakonomics is currently running a podcast that looks at why experts are so bad at forecasting: mainly because they, as experts, know better than the science-based forecasts and trend mechanisms.

The struggle is real.

On one hand, you want to be recognized as an expert in your field, but on the other hand, with people calling you an expert left and right, how can a professional maintain the humility to know that they probably won't have all the answers, all the time? Or in AdLand, how can professionals come to grips that several of the huge, industry-changing ideas were on a whim, or something in the moment when analyzing results from research and brainstorming?

Let's put this scenario in simpler terms. It is clear that we would rather look smarter than others. That's clear. Also, when an expert makes a mistake, the process of forgiveness and moving on is faster. Plus, since you're an expert, you are probably given more opportunities and have a higher chance of making a mistake than others. The exposure to risk is a real issue to consider.

On the flip side, one would imagine that an expert would turn down opportunities they were unsure of if the risk of being wrong is higher than other activities.

What should one do?

We are ones to take the lesser evil of a deal. Venturing out to become an expert is not a bad idea. But please, use that knowledge and that time wisely.

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About the Author
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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