The Problem With Experts

One of my favourite quotes about education goes something like this: “Education is the process of knowing more and more about less and less until you know absolutely everything about absolutely nothing.” I’ve seen it attributed to a few different people so I’ll leave it anonymous for now. Expertise is becoming both increasingly difficult and increasingly necessary. The complexity of our society as a whole, and the charitable sector specifically, makes specialised skill and insight essential in more fields than most of us even imagined existed just a few years ago. Fortunately, networking (both human and technological) makes finding specialists much more possible than it may at first appear. I am sincerely fascinated by experts in almost any field. I literally spent more than 40 minutes at an extended family Christmas a few years ago listening to my wife’s cousin’s husband tell me more than I thought there was to know about tools for repairing large vehicles. He even went out to his truck and borught in a special photo album so I could admire each drawer of his tool cabinet. I admit after 25 minutes I started looking for a polite way to get away, but his enthusiasm held me there. Experts are important, but they tend to be followed only by other experts. Leaders have to be multifaceted. This isn’t just because our responsibilities generally require at least a functional knowledge of several professional fields. Much more importantly, it is because we need to be interesting enough for people to be willing to give us their attention, and often their discretionary effort. It’s not about being professionally competent, its about being human. I have built many of my strongest professional connections because of shared interests in running, camping, and chicken wings. So whatever your interests outside of work may be; travel, sport, food, comics, astronomy, crafting, poetry, woodworking, the music of Zamfir (master of the panflute), or even, yes, truck repair; don’t give it up for too long as you face the challenges of your work. Experts are great, but what we really need are more fascinating leaders.