Saturday, December 06, 2014
We have very specific expertise in very specific domains. It'll be extremely unwise to think that being an expert in one domain can naturally lead to expertise in other domains.
For example, you're an economic professor teaching in a local university. Due to the nature of your work, you have to be somewhat of an expert in economics. But to think that your expertise in economics extend to areas like financial investments is delusional. It's just not the same. I can even postulate that real life economics is also different from academic economics. Being an expert in academic economics also doesn't guarantee that you're an expert in real life economics. It's that specific.
Case in point: Me. I was studying civil engineering back in NUS and had to do reservist during the school holidays. I must say I'm quite an expert in soil mechanics. There are numerous modules in soil engineering, and I never fail to get anything less than an A- in them. But I failed miserably when I was asked to hammer in a long iron picket in a dry soil. The soil is just too hard to push it through and several attempts at hammering it didn't really help (I must confess we didn't even have a hammer...guess what we did to hammer it?). Even if it goes in, there's not a lot of friction in the dry soil (it's more like sand) to hold the picket upright. Fortunately, there came along a course mate who is also in my platoon. He suggested pouring some water on the soil to increase the shear strength and then he proceeded to pour his whole water bottle onto the patch of sandy soil. It works damn well! The soil becomes less sandy, with a marked increment in the angle of phi, so the shear strength of the soil also increases. This allows the picket to maintain its upright position.
This episode must obviously had a huge impact on me, knowing that I still remembered it after all these years. Being an expert in soil mechanics on paper doesn't guarantee that you're an expert in soil mechanics in practice. Domain specific expertise is that specific.
A person who is a successful businessman doesn't mean he's good at investing. A mathematician specializing in probability doesn't mean he's good at estimating real life odds. A economics teacher doesn't mean he's good at interpreting global trends. A tutor who had taught for 10 yrs in various fields like maths and science doesn't mean he's good at finance. LOL
So the next time you see anyone claiming to be an expert:
1. Ignore his title. What associate director, what CEO..forget it, it's not important
2. Ignore his qualifications. Paper qualifications, hence academic, does not guarantee real life qualifications. Being an expert in mathematics on paper, doesn't mean that you're an expert in real life mathematics, but at least there's a theoretical background to fall back on. Being an expert in mathematics and thinking that you're an expert in technical analysis (for example) is a big fallacy you must not fall into, or believe that others are capable of. Reminds me of Antony Robbins - the self motivation guru espousing wisdom on investments, lol
3. Ignore his years of experience. Unless you can show that the experience is close to the situation as possible. And you must be really really discerning.
So in a world of smoke and mirrors, what gives? In my opinion, experience in the exact situation (or similar enough, but be discerning) is the best forecaster of expertise. If you've been hammering nails in metal sheets for 10 yrs, you're an expert at hammering nails in metals sheets. You might be some sort of expert in hammering nails in wooden planks, but it might be kind of far fetch to say you're an expert at working with metals.
In my line, having 10 yrs of experience teaching good students is equivalent to less than 1 yr of experience teaching bad students. Yes, again, it's that specific LOL