Expertitis

My family jokes that David and I spend a lot of time at Christmas offering “tech support.” We help everyone set up their new devices and work on their lists of things that haven’t been working right. They like to say that every question brings them one step closer to us booting them out the door, but we don’t mind. It’s good to be helpful.

And, at least we can filter out the easy stuff from what needs to be advanced to the experts.

Back when I was in graduate school, lo these many moons ago, one of my professors had a sign on his office door that read something like “Experts don’t really know more than anyone else. They’re just better prepared and have slides.”

I tried to Google this for a source, but had little luck. The quip has been scrambled about many times. And, of course, this version is obviously quite dates. Slides?? Do you all remember making slides for presentations – where you’d photograph pages, develop the film (special slide film), cut the square you wanted from long strips and glue them into the little slide frames? It took DAYS to prepare for a presentation. And then you had to cart those slide carousels around… Now we fiddle with our Power Point presentations up until the last minute and simply plug in the laptop. Technology is such a wonderful thing.

ANYWAY.

My point is, I’ve always remembered this sign. And the wisdom of it.

This particular professor was very good at giving advice in a very new field at the time, of environmental toxicology. There wasn’t a lot of data yet. Most environmental toxicology works through chronic exposure. It’s difficult to draw a line from a few childhood years spent paddling beneath the paper mill to the cancer death 40 years later. In another hundred years, we might have some really good data. But I digress, yet again. What this professor could do was bring a wealth of experience in science and explain concepts in a way that people understood and could get excited about.

He also had a team of grad students to make really good slides.

So, though he had the critical thinking and clarity of self to recognize that as an “expert” he wasn’t really all that special, that very perspective made him really good at knowing what he didn’t know and gave him the drive to fill those gaps.

The flip side of this is the people who consider themselves experts without this wealth of experience.

I see this a lot in social media. Writers with no publication credits, or paltry ones, offering writing advice. Writers who get hired as editors with digital publishing houses who then start offering editing tips. People starting up digital publishing houses from their living rooms and weighing in on the state of publishing.

In a way, the interwebs are the great leveler. Quality of content is all. So, arguably, good advice is good advice and will win out. However, a lot of stuff out there floats to the top and it’s not exactly cream.

It’s a disease, really. Expertitis. Born of our longing to be vindicated, to be legitimate in a business that rarely offers these rewards. How do you quantify a successful writer, editor, agent or publisher? The recognition of our peers is a fickle thing. Money follows the trends, not necessarily the quality. In many ways, I suppose we have to crown ourselves, because no one else will.

But that takes some clarity and critical thinking.

It’s really not about the slides.

12 Replies to “Expertitis”

      1. It looked like some netting too – Fancy!! And I noticed the reference to crowning yourself…so figured you included this picture for many reasons 🙂

  1. I think we all learn and teach in different ways.
    You can have twenty years experience, or you can repeat one year of experience twenty times over. Just seems to work out that way. Some of the wisest people I know in some fields have studied and observed first, while others forge ahead.
    BTW, I remember the interim between slides and Power Point — overhead projectors!

    1. Good points, Mona. I suppose my issues is more with the “overnight experts.” The “I have this job, therefore I give advice about it” syndrome.

      And, OMG, overheads! Yes. I used to have files of transparencies. Good times.

  2. Ah, the dread disease Expertitis. I fell afoul of people who were suffering from this when I first started searching the internet for writing advice. Ugh. It’s bad enough, but when you’re just starting out, telling the real experts from the posers is a tough go. I wish I’d had someone give me the heads-up back then like you’re doing here. =o)

    1. That’s the thing that gets me, B.E. There IS so much good information out there for newbie writers and they should absolutely look for it. But so many people now are setting themselves up as experts just to market their own work that it’s a swamp of misinformation. I know there’s no solution, but I wish people would *think* about what kind of advice they’re offering. Especially if it’s real, good advice and not just parroting what someone else said.

  3. Frankly, I have a hard enough time giving advice in areas I feel somewhat proficient, much less areas I only dabble in. I’m always afraid what works for me won’t necessarily be the right approach for someone else.

    Happy New Year! May 2012 bring you much happiness. 🙂

    1. See, this is because you’re a wise person who sees herself pretty clearly, Linda. You’re careful about the advice you give.

      Happy New Year to you, too!

  4. Clarity and critical thinking seem to be in short supply on the Internet. Actually, it’s probably not that so much as the people who like to hear themselves talk somehow always manage to be a lot louder. If only someone offered an accreditation program for folks with common sense.

    I laughed at your comment about how you’re tech support for everyone after they get their new Christmas gadgets.

    Thank you for your kind comments at my blog. I really appreciated it. You are a good soul.

    Merry 2012! May your New Year’s Eve not be too much compromised by watching the cringe-worthy sight of Dick Clark and his aged, stroke-victim countdown of the last ten minutes of 2011. *shudder* Dear God, someone really needs to tell him to stand down on the Rockin’ New Year’s Eve thing.

    1. “…the people who like to hear themselves talk somehow always manage to be a lot louder” – isn’t that the truth? I would fully support your accreditation program.

      I meant every word of what I said on your post. I’m glad it came as a comfort. See? Even your blog comment here makes me laugh. May 2012 be rewarding for us both!!

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