Are you an expert?


Experts come in many flavors.

A couple of weeks ago, my 4-year-old daughter made a statement that warmed my heart…”My daddy works for IBM, and My uncle works for HP..guess what, IBM is bigger than HP !”. My euphoria  didn’t last long – pretty soon I figured out that she didn’t have any grandiose ideas of comparing IBM with HP – all she meant was IBM has 3 letters, while HP has only 2. But that was enough in her mind to reach the conclusion that her daddy worked for the bigger company.

Then it dawned on me that I too make plenty of such conclusions – and probably a lot many others too. Human mind apparently likes simple answers – and as long as the simple answer is not disproved, we won’t go much farther to find another answer. Over the holidays, I got to catch up on a lot of reading , mostly on two topics very close to my heart – Dogs and Management. And on both topics – I can see plenty of examples of this.

I think that once  you are an expert on something – like say stock market, dog shows or horse racing –  you feel compelled to give an explanation for anything that happens in your field. Keeping quiet is apparently not an option.  Being logical or being fact based in your argument is not a necessary quality of such experts either.

Take dog shows – you will keep hearing that “this breed is doomed..it no longer resembles the great dogs of a 100 years ago…and does not resemble the third sentence in the breed standard..” . Except – the standard was written by people who were no more smarter than the people who live and breed today. Also, while they created the breed, and knew the function the breed was supposed to do – those folks did not have the benefit of health and genetics studies that happened in last few years. So – we still hold on to a standard that was written a century ago and think god wrote it.  Also, over a period of time – context is lost. If a standard says ” the dog should look like a clever hunter” – how will the dude living in an apartment in NYC know what a clever hunter is? ..Same with eye color in some breeds..”darker the better” – although no one knows why darker eyes are better.  And it is easier to create a time machine than to revise a breed standard.

it is worser with business management – where there is always an explanation on why something has happened, and it is always after the fact – never ahead of time. When I was doing my MBA in the nineties, Cisco was the cult. Every one wanted to be like John Chambers. Cisco did everything right – I have lost count of the Harvard Case studies I have read on Cisco – from supply chain management, to mergers and acquisitions, to raising employee morale. Cisco could do no wrong. Every business magazine – business week, Fortune etc – wrote cover stories on Cisco every few months. And then tech bubble crashed, and Cisco went down. The pundits at these magazines  didn’t skip a heartbeat – they wrote cover stories immediately on how Cisco did everything wrong. How they never listened to customers, how they did Mergers in cowboy fashion, and so on. I don’t remember having seen “We were dead wrong about Cisco in our prior analysis” from any pundit.

The ecosystem in which we live constantly evolves – and possibly, there are no black and white answers to every question any more. But do we need this compulsive obsession to find a simple answer to every thing?  Einstein said something along the lines of “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler” . I think the man had a point.

The one field that hates simple answers that I know of is  horse racing – have you ever read that a horse failed just because he was slow? The horse failed because he didn’t like the surface he ran on, or because his jockey was no good, or because his trainer didn’t put him in the right race – but never because he was simply  slow !!

Maybe there is a middle ground between where the management gurus stand and where the horse racing pundits stand – but then, how would I know – I am no expert.

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