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Friday, March 8, 2019

What Qualities Do Experts Have? by Warren Bull

What Qualities Do Experts Have? by Warren Bull
Image by Sasikan Ulevik on Upsplash

I’ve heard a lots of questions recently along the lines of: “If I read articles about something from time to time, will that make me an expert?” Or: “Most people in the world think X but Y says something else it true, why don’t people wise up and realize that Y has the real dope.”
Experts are discounted on one hand (I remember when a British debater described an expert as a drip under pressure) and accorded unquestioned knowledge in all areas on the other.
Michael J. Mauboussin of Legg Mason Capital Management wrote recently about the  Characteristics of Experts:

“Given that experts exist in diverse domains, psychologists
wondered whether they have much in common. The answer: a resounding Yes.
Research on expert performance reveals seven robust and universal

1. Experts excel in their own domains, but not outside their domain. Expertise
is domain specific.

2. Experts perceive patterns in their domain.

3. Experts solve problems much faster than novices. Lightning chess, where
players only have a few seconds to decide a move, illustrates this point well.

4. Experts have superior short and long-term memory. When tested, experts appear
to have recall capacity that exceeds the limits of short-term memory.  [Editorial note: This applies within their specialty, but may not apply generally. G.K. Chesterton on his way to a speech would often phone his home from the railroad station to ask where he was supposed to be heading.]

5. Experts represent problems at a deeper level than novices…experts sort by
principle-based categories, while novices sort more literally, reflecting the
problem’s surface features.

6. Experts spend a lot of time solving problems qualitatively.

7. Experts have a strong sense of their own fallibility. Experts tend to be more
aware of their errors, why they fail, and when they need to check their answers.”

I agree that the process an expert engages in is qualitatively different that what less experienced problem-solvers do. Experts identify and consider underlying concepts; an issue can be solved superficially, but the problem underneath the particular situation will generate other issues until the basic problem is identified and solved. In medicine treatment of symptoms may lessen the signs but leave the illness still active.
And experts can recognize complicated situations with a speed and accuracy that confounds less skillful observers. Agents and editors can assess writing skills within a paragraph or two. Musical theater directors can tell how well a singer can perform within a measure or two of listening.
 What I find particularly interesting and telling is that experts are aware of the limits of their expertise. It seems to me that an essential part of expertise is the ability to say, “I don’t know. You need to ask someone who does.” I am working currently with a physical therapist who advised me that I was not making the progress expected and I needed to consult my physician. She was right. I got the needed medical help and now I’m back working with her again. 
How do you identify someone as an expert?


KM Rockwood said...

At one point in my life, I worked at the University of Chicago library. They tried to hire experts in their fields, often the people who have written "the" textbook.

We noticed an interesting pattern to them. Most were male (perhaps a product of the times--it was years ago,) were totally absorbed by their subject, had no understanding that other people might be ahead of them in requesting library service, and (most interesting) usually lived with their mothers, who had moved to Chicago with them for the position on the faculty. They were punctual with their classes and office hours, but not particularly good teachers. That wasn't considered a problem. It was the student's responsibility to learn.

I now realize that most of them were exhibiting many features of autism, particularly Aspergers syndrome.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

My husband is a physicist and my go-to person for natural phenomena (lava flow, rainbows, vectors, waves, how sound travels in fog, stars) and the chemistry of poisons. When we found a statue of Lord Kelvin in a Belfast park, he explained, at great length, the concept of absolute zero. He was the go-to neighborhood tutor for AP Physics and a strict taskmaster on the kids' science projects, our kitchen counters filled with racks of test tubes and lines of beakers. We also had a periodic chart on the refrigerator.

People ask me what we talk about over dinner every evening: politics, professional soccer, and our dogs.

Gloria Alden said...

A very interesting blog, Warren. It makes me realize I'm not an expert at anything. Yes there are a lot of things I can do and they seem okay, but I'm certainly not an expert.

Warren Bull said...

KM. Oh, yes. When I started to college computers were new. Many students would get fascinated with the new machines, spend hours writing little programs and ignore everything else. They flunked out.

Warren Bull said...

Margaret, Sounds like your husband can leave his work behind and actually chat socially.

Warren Bull said...