Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Someone recently introduced himself to me as an “expert” in his particular area. I was somewhat taken aback by this as in Britain at least this is not a term we use lightly. As I reflected on this I reached two diametrically opposite interpretations of this word:

  • Someone calling themself an expert is one of a handful of people in the world who knows all there is to know about this particular subject; if they aren’t able to answer a question (perhaps after going away to think about it on their own) no-one can.
  • Someone calling themself an expert has such a weak understanding of the subject in question that they aren’t even aware of all of their areas of ignorance. In all likelihood such experts will answer questions inaccurately if they can answer them at all.
Note that experts in the former category don’t need to describe themselves in this way - it is obvious.

1 comment:

Kenny said...


Love the anecdote. I consider myself an expert in some extremely limited domains, but would never publicly proclaim such a thing. Let others judge.

A wise man once told me that he got his first consulting job precisely by not claiming to be, or trying to appear to be, an expert: instead of taking an opportunity to trash someone in public, he held back, and let his silence speak for him. That impressed other people sufficiently that six months later, they came and asked him to do some work for them. It's all about playing the long game...