The Expert Can Be Wrong

There is no such uncertainty as a sure thing.  Robert Burns

Our world is filled with experts.  Turn on the TV, radio, look at the internet and there they are spouting off on topics they think they know completely.  In the words of Nancy Grace,  “put up the experts”.  They  usually have a fancy title or degree or at least they tell you they are an expert via their LinkedIn or Facebook page.  Luckily, many states’ licensing process makes many occupations prove that they have the necessary training and experience.

By definition it takes training and experience to become an expert.  Malcolm Gladwell would say 10,000 hours of training and practice to produce a star athlete, great musician, in short, an expert.  That’s about 10 years of full-time work.  As soon as Gladwell’s theory was published, other so-called experts were trying to debunk it saying it doesn’t take that long.  For those of us who have been in the workforce a long time, at ten years you are just getting your feet wet.

In today’s hedonistic society, we want instant gratification and at the same time we want the best of everything.  Our coffee is now made by a barista.  Our hamburgers and BLT’s are handcrafted.  (If Mom only knew she was an local artisan)

So why spend all that time to become one?    It’s the norm, apparently.

No matter how much you think you know,  it is more important to know what you do not know.  Knowing that takes time and experience.  A seasoned veteran is less surprised by the unusual than the usual.

I would rather have the cautious practitioner who knows what he does not know.  Limits of knowledge are real and knowing them are critical.  In the theory of science, Karl Popper wrote about how to prove your theory and he developed a process to do so. If theory is a sure thing, does not have possibility to be falsified, it cannot proved.  So, the theory can and the expert can be wrong.  The question is does he know that and do we?  It is okay to be a generalist, there are a lot of us out there.

You can read more about the 10,000 hour rule at Malcolm Gladwell’s site


or read about Karl Popper and the Philosophy of Science at

Philosophy of Science



1 Comment

  1. Experts abound in this 21st century media driven world its seems. I am reminded , frequently, by Burns, when I find that “best laid plans” do not pan out. Sometimes, even expertise works better in moderation. 🙂


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