I sometimes think this country has become hypnotized by “experts.” Whenever a problem comes up, a panel of “experts” – usually university professors is assembled to look for answers. But does it really help? Back in 2008, the experts thought the economy would keep growing, but in retrospect looked rather clueless. During his national address on the BP oil spill, President Obama said he consulted “experts in academia” on what to do, while reminding us his energy secretary has a Nobel Prize. As Peggy Noonan has written:
“There is a growing meme that Mr. Obama is too impressed by credentialism, by the meritocracy, by those who hold forth in the faculty lounge, and too strongly identifies with them. He should be more impressed by those with real-world experience. It was the “small people” in the shrimp boats who laid the boom.”
Mr. Obama doesn’t have much real-world experience, but in fairness, it’s not just him, but most of America that’s caught up in expert hysteria. Ph.D.’s litter the broadcast media, even commenting on things they know nothing about. (I have a Ph.D. so I’m being perfectly transparent here.)
The problem is, the system is pretty much built on the idea that we have to be right all the time. Publishers want best-sellers. Movie studios want blockbusters. Scientists want to score the big grants. Pastors want mega-churches. TV wants information right now – forget taking the time to make sure it’s actually correct.
When we live in a society that worships “experts,” we become a breeding ground for mistakes without even realizing it. Greatness comes at the expense of learning from mistakes. But we have to create a culture where honest mistakes aren’t demonized, but learned from and valued.
I don’t want my employees making mistakes because they didn’t work hard enough, do their research, or were lazy. But I don’t mind mistakes when they happen because of over-reaching, trying something new, or exploring new territory.
While the academic superstars are meeting with President Obama to discuss ideas for stopping the oil leak, just remember all the nobodies out there who are already laying booms, working on new solutions in their garage, and cleaning wildlife covered in oil.
I’m all for learning from those who know, but sometimes we don’t need experts as much as inventors, risk takers, and people who are willing to get dirty.
I’m reminded that travel agents know all about exotic places but sit behind a desk. On the other hand, tour guides have actually been there, know the location, and take you there personally. As John Maxwell puts it, “Real leaders aren’t travel agents. They’re tour guides.”
Which one are you?