We should stop calling ourselves experts

Before diving into this article it’s good to show the inspiration source. A quote from this article:

The entrepreneur space is rife with false hope and false promises. There’s an entire species of ‘X gurus’ – social media gurus, SEO gurus, business success gurus, etc. For the most part, they look and act human, but be not mistaken. They reek of pompiety; and at networking events, as soon as they introduce themselves, they set off a domino reaction of eye rolls from people surrounding them.

However, these people are also very good at gauging the interest of those who are vulnerable, selling them a solution they need right at that moment. Businesses end up forking out exorbitant amounts of money on books, seminars, videos and one-on-one consultations that provide little to no actionable insights or value. They end up starving a crowd that needs feeding.

Sigh. It’s just so sad that this quote is so true. It’s hard to know where to even begin… but … well, here goes:

It all begins with the all too common skill: exaggeration

A real definition: Exaggeration: “To consider, represent, or cause to appear as larger, more important, or more extreme than is actually the case; overstate”, “to magnify beyond the limits of truth; overstate; represent disproportionately”.

My definition: Exaggeration: probably one of the most common skills in the marketing and sales industry, and immensely annoying to people who prefer the truth said “as is”.

I think the definition “to magnify beyond the limits of truth” truly captures the essence of exaggeration.

Exaggeration is actually a form of dishonesty, akin to lying. Because in your mind you know the limits or true capabilities of something, but you’re overstating them intentionally, most of the time for a selfish purpose. As the previous definition also suggests, exaggeration includes “considering” something more important that actually is the case. So that means that even if YOU believe the exaggeration sincerely, that doesn’t change the fact that it is, indeed, an exaggeration.

In a sense I am deeply saddened by how rarely you find someone who measures their words, speaks with precision and qualification in the online marketing space.

Average people may listen and follow, smart people will think less of you

If you exaggerate your value, skills or capabilities, you will likely succeed in deceiving some people. It’s very possible that average people who “have no idea” will listen to you and believe you when you proclaim yourself as an expert.

But in a sense that is very sad; because only naive people will follow.

Smart people are quite different. Smart people listen very carefully. Smart people have several layers of internal filters that they use to weigh out the accuracy and authenticity of the things they hear.

Ironically, the more you exaggerate your skills or expertise, the less likely you will ever be to rise to greatness and true public recognition of that. The more you seek to exalt yourself, the lower you fall.

Exaggerating your capabilities; what is an expert?

Neil Degrasse Tyson said in the series Cosmos:

 We hunger for significance

It’s important to add that it’s just plain old human nature to want to be important and great. But that doesn’t mean all of us are experts.

An expert is somebody who is truly and significantly ahead of the game. By definition, there can’t actually be that many experts around. Experts are identified by a common audience in a field who all recognise the fact that a particular individual is well and truly spectacular. Or in other words, unless other people call you an expert, you really aren’t one. It’s not something that we just decide for ourselves one day in the shower.

In the above article quoted at the start, the point of exaggeration and confusion was in the value of services provided by a team of marketing “experts”:

When asked about how the “$100,000 worth of marketing assistance” was quantified, Ng told Startup Daily that he, Morello and Coorey each charge up to $25,000 a day in consulting, which is undeniably exorbitant

A simple Google search can reveal the issue here:

The point at which the value of something is validated is the point of sale. Once an individual has paid an amount for something he is thus confirming that this thing is “worth” that amount to that individual. If people at large consistently purchase something at a certain monetary price, then it’s quite logical to deduce that this price is accurate according to its value.

So: both expertise and value are external only

The main point of this article is that the:

  1. Expertise we have
  2. Value we offer

Are both measured externally only. Your time is only worth what someone is willing (and does) to pay for it. You are an expert if and only if an audience of relevant people in your field widely acknowledge you to be.

The refreshing taste of humility

Arrogance and pompiety are immensely distasteful character attributes.

How much more refreshing is it to ask a real expert a question and have them answer: “You’re asking me something I can’t possibly know”

Or later on in the interview:

Question: So what makes a great leader?

Collins: They are people who are not in it for themselves. They’re in it to build a great company. They’re in it to create something that is larger than them. They are in it to have a real impact on the world. And they are utterly relentless in making the most painful decisions required in order to make good on that ambition. The signature that jumped out in our research is humility. The thing that is quite striking about these people is how many of the greatest ones are people you’ve never heard of. They’re not celebrities. They’re not necessarily the most charismatic group.

Or have a real thought leader say:

It’s what you DO when you don’t have that answer that separates the high-integrity experts from the rest of the pack… The more you’re willing to show your vulnerability and the fact that you don’t know everything, the more of an expert you truly show yourself to be. Most “experts” will try not to show weaknesses and pretend they have all the answers to everything, but that’s impossible and most smart, experienced professionals know it. Thus, those in our industry who have the courage to admit they don’t know are the ones who truly garner respect

It’s great to aspire to be experts

Ambition is great. Aspiring to be an expert is great. Passion is great. Relentless studying and discipline is great.

If we rather focus our time and energies on actually becoming experts instead of focusing on making other people think we’re experts, we’d likely see more results.

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2 Responses

  1. Oliver says:

    Great article Shawn !

    Its the relativity that binds one’s perception of value which evokes the; “one man’s junk is another’s persons expert.”
    Good to see we have experts in finding out who experts are !

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    • shawn says:

      It got through my spam filters 🙂

      Thanks for your comment. You are right about relativity, but one of the main points of this article is actually about humility. Most, if not all of the people who make it to the very top are generally modest and agreeable people

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