The End of Experts?

Knowledge is changing. Facts, even obscure facts are readily available, so expertise, based on factual knowledge has diminishing value.

Expertise, based on understanding, is more robust since it allows The Expert to interrogate and then structure mountains of easily available facts intelligently, but that expertise is based on a style of thought.

What is also new is that the availability of useful knowledge on most subjects is growing faster than any Expert can digest. 20 years ago you were expert on an issue because you knew things; both facts and what they meant. New material appeared at a rate you could digest so if you were diligent relative to others; you remained expert.

But now new material appears at a much faster rate than anyone can digest. Thus, over time, despite the same amount of diligence, the gap between what the expert knows, and what is available, widens. Those joining a subject later can quickly catch up.

This is true in business, technology, geo politics and finance. It might be less true in hard sciences where basic physical laws, which are not that easy to master, constrain thought. (Second law of thermodynamics anyone?)

So what.

Successful knowledge workers now need a particular style of intellect. This style is more useful than knowing facts.

This style needs to be fast moving and rapid learning. It seeks those with contrasting styles so the ‘collective’ can make sense of the available knowledge. McKinsey, I am told, seldom hire in subject experts because they expect their people to use the McKinsey style to make sense of the facts. Same idea for a different reason.

So what tools do these collective thinkers have: info graphics, languages, simple decision models often using numbers. In short, they have tools of understanding which allow them to quickly absorb and manipulate knowledge.

So probably….

Decisions need timetables. Knowledge is gathered, processed and used. The team then move on to other tasks because there is little value in maintaining their factual expertise.

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