Why Experts Suck

A lot of people wonder why I eschew the title of “expert” and instead choose to use “hacker.”  Is it just because it sounds more badass?  Well, it does, but that’s not the reason.

To get to the reason, think about about this little scenario.  For the sake of this example, let’s say you’re looking to lose weight.  This can be applied to any field (Finance, employment, time management, etc) but in this case, you want to lose some weight, and you mention it to your friend.  The following conversation then ensues:

Friend: You’re looking to lose weight, right?

You: Well, duh, that’s what I just said, isn’t it?

Friend: Well, then you know what you need to read?

You: No, what?

Friend: Book XYZ, it’s written by Doctor Bullshit.

You: Dr. Bullshit?  Sounds legit!

Friend: Yeah, he’s an expert on weight loss.

You: Sounds good!  I’ll go pick it up from Amazon now!

Fast forward a few weeks later, you’ve read the book, and it has some pretty decent advice, plus a lot of things you already know.  What do you do next?

Well, if you’re like most people, you’ll do nothing and quickly fail to lose any weight.  So what’s going on?  You had “expert advice” after all.  Shouldn’t you look like Jared from Subway by now?

Every time you fail on a diet, this man laughs at you from his bathtub of money.

What’s going on is exactly what makes experts so useless.  All of their knowledge prevents them from making big revolutionary breakthroughs.  Even more surprisingly, there’s science to back this up.

Kevin Dunbar, is a scientist who studies, in part, how scientists and researchers conduct experiments and studies.  He found that scientists, most of whom were experts in their fields would often ignore errors that occurred consistently in their experiments, simply because the result of these errors didn’t jive with what they already knew of science.  So rather than question their “expert knowledge” they choose, instead, to ignore the results, assuming they were the result of human error.

Even more interestingly, there is an area of the brain that essentially works to “delete” the memory of such errors from the brains of experts.

We’re guilty of this to a certain extent, we tend to seek out information that jives with what we already know.  It’s why almost every dieting book over the last 50 years has amounted to basically the same advice: Eat fewer calories and exercise more.  We ignore most other advice because we’ve had that mantra beat into us since birth, so anything else tends to be ignored by the brain.  You already know what the experts are going to tell you, you’re just not doing it.  Which says that maybe it’s not the right advice for actually getting things done.

Think for a moment about the controversy that surrounded the Atkins Diet when it came out.  For the first time, you had someone advocating something other than the “cut calories, exercise” mantra, and there were a lot of people up in arms about it…and even more experts appearing on the news to refute it – “surely such a different idea can’t be right, can it?”

But at least anecdotally, a huge number of people lost weight using Atkins.  Why?  Because Dr. Atkins took the entire dieting system apart, questioned everything, and approached it from another angle, finding a different solution.  In short he hacked dieting.

The same holds true for personal finance, (How many times do you need to be told to spend less?) even finding a job, (Do you really need to spend money on another book telling you to ‘follow your passion?’) or even time management. (“So, you’re saying I should schedule my time?  Brilliant!”)

It’s time to stop worshipping experts.  Let them keep writing their books to help the people who just want to spend money to be told to do what their already doing, and you can focus on learning to hack your own path.

Can you think of a time you successfully rejected expert advice?  Share it in the comments.


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