Thursday, January 14, 2021

Expert versus Newbie

I've been a full-time tutor for 18 years and that's a very very long time. I think if I have a kid early, some of my youngest students can be my children already. Over the course of 18 yrs, I've progressed from a newbie tutor to a more experienced one. I've probably seen the same question in exams over and over again for decades. Therein lies the problem. I find that I'm more impatient over the years, and less willing to try new methods because of past success. I mean, why fix something that works?

It's the problem of the transition from a newbie to an expert.

Being an expert makes doing things a lot easier and faster. After all, an expert has done the same things so many times and had seen so many permutations of the same problem to be able to solve it at an instinctual level. But it comes at the expense of being open-minded and seeing every problem as a nail just because you have a hammer. An example will be those lao jiao investors who had seen the stock price of Creative during the dot com bust and Lehman brothers crumble down before their very eyes, blow by blow. They will think they had seen it all until they realised, just an instant too late, that they had not. It's especially hard to be an expert in an open complex system like the stock market where the outcome is based on many different individuals with different motives and emotions. Are you sure you have seen all the permutations in your years of experience in the stock market? 

On the other hand, being a newbie makes you a little more fearful (okay, granted, there is another type of newbie who is reckless and ignorant, but not readers of this blog I hope) so you tread with caution. You listen and read up more, you stay curious and humble in order to absorb like a sponge. In other words, you sacrifice efficiency in order to learn. I remember devouring libraries of books on investing and trading, but now I hardly ever read one. Or that for every hour of lessons I have with students, I need to spend 2 hours preparing. Now, it's maybe 5 to 10 mins preparatory work per hour of actual lesson?

From ITG.Builder

The issue comes when an expert stops learning. He becomes stagnant and gets left behind by the changing wheels of time. A newbie, however, learns and learns, and eventually, he might become an expert. His destiny is that he too, will stop learning and ceases to be relevant to society. So, how do I break this chain?

I think the most important part is to recognise that you might not be an expert in the first place. In a closed system where the solution is not determined by other players in the system, it is easy to become an expert. A few years in such an environment will enable one to see most of the tricks of the trade. I think being a tutor is mostly a closed system. Year 1 as a tutor might find me sweating because I don't know how to answer a question, but by year 10, shame on me if I still don't know some underlying trends or derive some shortcuts to hack through a difficult topic. I probably would have seen most of what could be set in a topic by now. But in an open system where there are many players, each interacting with one another, it is incredibly hard to be an expert. You might be an expert, for some time, until the system adjusts to a stage where your edge is eroded away. A shining example of that is the stock market. As a trader/investor, you better don't think you're an expert. Always a newbie, always learning, always be that little cautious. The market is not your mother to feed milk to your wide gaping mouth. If you're not careful, it'll steal the milk bottle plus the baby under your nose.

Don't ever fall for the illusion that just because you are an expert in one domain, you are an expert in all domains. Not by a long shot. Most expertise, if any, are extremely localised and specific and thus not transferable. So don't think that because a celebrity actor endorses a hair treatment service, it's a guarantee of its effectiveness. Most likely, she has the expertise in acting, but certainly not in hair treatment. Likewise, having expertise in mathematics (e.g.being a top student) does not guarantee expertise in teaching mathematics. So when I know of parents/tuition agencies wanting a stella academic track record before hiring, I smile silently. They might very well end up with a walking textbook who excels in doing math but sucking big time at teaching it. 

Do something new and be a newbie in some new fields. This will keep you grounded and humble. The feeling of being a newbie is transferable, unlike expertise in domains. I think it's because if you suck at something, the feeling of being a loser hurts you more than the euphoria of feeling powerful as a winner. Hence, being a newbie in a new field might keep you grounded in the domain that you are an expert in. How about surrounding yourself with smarter, wiser people? If you see a diffusion of knowledge as the net movement of information from a person of higher knowledge to a person of lesser knowledge, being in such an environment creates the greatest knowledge gradient between you and the group, so you maximise your learning by being immersed in knowledge, so to speak. I guess this cuts both directions, so don't be the most knowledgeable person in a group. If you are there to stroke your ego, please continue. If not, move on and find a smarter and wiser group of friends.

The best of both worlds is to become an expert in being a newbie - someone who constantly puts himself in an environment to maximise learning, who is humble enough to recognise his own inadequacies in the field, and who is curious enough to keep learning in spite of, past successes. 

So there, that should be my new year's resolution. No...  this is bigger than a new year's resolution. This should be my lifetime goal.


Adrian said...

Lovely. I think I can understand why I'm a fan of your blog. You save me the trouble of blogging, everything you say echoes my thoughts. Also been in education for the same duration of time, feel the same things, etc..

Agree with u completely. Am also trying to immerse myself in a new environment, learn new things from others and ex students (awesome pple to learn from). All the best!

Sillyinvestor said...

How about being a expert newbie, or new expert??


I am teaching for 15 years, and I still like trying out new things and also preparing new resources for pupils.i am amazed by others who felt that they dun need to, pupils are different ...

Doing the same thing more than twice made me feel quite sick.

I am talking about teaching literally. Investing wise, I not so adventurous. Only recently I look a bit further.

However, I do agreed that it is very difficult even for a expert newbie to experince paradigm shift

This is a trap, because u went through 10000 hours to attain expert level, u might be humble enough to still learn and listen, but the 10000 hours would most probably shape your beliefs

Might not be a bad thing

If u are successful value investor, why is there a need to become a expert trader?

la papillion said...

Hi Adrian,

Good to know we have similar frequency :) I had an ex student who said his kids will be sent to me for tuition. It'll be interesting to see that happening lol

la papillion said...

Hi SI,

Might no need paradigm shift, but little nudge along the way might be sufficient for an expert to continue to learn. Regarding value investors, the definition of value had changed from Graham to Buffett to god-knows-who now. So yes, even value investing needs to stay relevant.

I think having gone through many hours, we have to ask ourselves if the next 10k hours is more of doing the same thing or trying something different, just to experiment. That curiosity is impt. Otherwise will be very jaded and cynical haha

kevin said...

To "constantly puts himself in an environment to maximise learning" isn't easy .. first-hand experience haha! Perhaps because we are lulled into a false sense of security (or complacency), but it will pay handsome dividends if we are willing to take the first step!

So glad to see both yourself and Thomas back writing at your blogs! Hope this isn't just a start-of-year thing :D

la papillion said...

Hi Kevin,

Indeed it isn't easy. But for my career as a tutor, I need to do this, both for myself and for the sake of my students. I find that if I don't put myself in a beginner's mindset in some new things/field, I tend to forget what it is like to learn something new. I might have said something for the 100th time, but to my students, maybe they only heard it for the 2nd time in their life. Perspectives :)

15hww sort of inspired me to continue blogging, otherwise I'll still be in my hermit cave sipping coffee and reading lol

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