Folks: I must agree w/ charles of 19-Feb. This blog post isn’t an argument against experts, frankly I’m not sure what it’s really about ! I will say I detect a certain wrong-headedness about the distinction between expertise and authority running in many comments. I was very recently promoted on my job, so I’ve thought about these issues quite a bit and here are a few observations.
Referring to the Towering Inferno/Steve McQueen example, the chief analyzes the situation by asking thoughtful questions, based on his experience in dealing w/ fires over decades. Subsequently, he commences to give orders to address the problem, as he has modelled it in his head. (Never saw the movie, so I don’t know things turn out.)
Jeff mentions the 1st part of the equation: the analysis, but fails to mention the 2nd, even more ctitical element: implementation of a solution. In a team, there may be several experts, but only one of them is a team leader and that leader is supposed to give orders, to solve the task at hand. One can only hope that the team leader is competant (ie. has adequate skills in the problem domain: fire-fighting, programming, whatever) and knows how to achieve objectives through the efforts of others (ie. is a good supervisor/manager.) The team leader needn’t be the best practictioner on the team, as long as he/she has firm control over his/her ego, so that the leader chooses the right person for the right job. Team members must also have a tight grip over their own egos, as an individual must accept that the leader need not be the best practictioner on the team, as long as the team’s goals are achieved in a more-or-less timely and economical fashion. Unfortunately, we’ve all been victims of the ‘Peter Principle’, individuals who’ve been promoted past their level of competance, so we sometimes resist being team leaders/supervisors/managers and resist calling ourselves expert (ie. we resist being authority figures, possibly to avoid becoming the assholes we’ve come to loathe.)
Wikipedia is a nice idea and I use the facility regularly, but it isn’t and never will be an authoritative resource, as long as Jimmy Wales has his way. He wants to create a comprehensive reference work by way of some utopian, democratic process, hence the so-called ‘anti-expert bias’. He will fail, bec one must have referees (ie. editors) who will, in fact, end debates by saying: ‘Because I said so !’. Someone must make important decisions when disputes arise and the democratic model isn’t a viable tool for making management decisions. The publisher (Wales) chooses and validates his executive editor and assistant editors, who in turn, choose and validate their expert researchers. One might use the democratic process, to choose among expert researchers, the individual who will be the overall editor of an interest area. (However that might give an unfair advantage to the more politically adept in the group. C’est la vie.) But, it’s ludicrous to suggest that anyone from anywhere should be permitted to decide the content of a particular article w/o knowing anything about their qualifications or (possibly more important) their motives.
Expert and authority aren’t ‘dirty’ words. Responsible experts help to impart to neophytes the best practices for their chosen profession. Capable leaders achieve complex objectives (in a timely and econmical fashion) from the indivduals under their influence. However, if you want good experts/leaders/managers, you have to step up when the opportunities present themselves and be the role model of what a competant expert or leader is supposed to be.