Expertise

 

It’s not hard for me to take a look around wherever I happen to be and notice lots of things that I know little or nothing about.

For example, at this very moment I’m sitting on a wooden chair with a cushion at a kitchen table. The kitchen table is also made from wood which has been stained, marked and sealed to look ‘stressed’. I have no idea what type of tree the table or chairs were made from. I have no idea what materials or processes were used to fashion the cushion. I won’t even pretend to know what specific colors they might be. (If you have ever dealt with a clothes designer, interior decorator or house painter you’ll know what I’m talking about. Who knew how many types of white or black there could be?)

But let me go on. Within my immediate field of vision there’s a refrigerator, electric stove, cabinets, kitchen sink, more wood for the floor, light fixtures, windows, coffee maker, juicer, and this here darn computer. All of which I’m familiar with as an end user. None of which I have any in depth knowledge of. I know nothing about where the raw materials came from, what processes and additional materials were needed to reshape and create each, who were the people involved in that manufacturing sequence (where were they from, what were they like, was this a good job for them?) and how it all ended up here. I do have a limited and working knowledge of how to maintain and repair most of what I’m looking at. That’s about it. Beyond that, I have phone numbers of people with more expertise.

So, if I can do this at my kitchen table, imagine how I can do this in a subway car, or laying on a beach, or walking my dog in the woods. I look around and am constantly noticing things that I know little or nothing about. None of this makes me feel inadequate. I am not supposed to know everything about everything. Not knowing is quite normal. (But more on that in just a moment.)

I want to bring you back to those phone numbers that I have. They put me in contact with people that know, at the very least, more than me. That’s what I hope. They advertise themselves as ‘professional’ or ‘expert’ but we have no real way of judging that. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to see a billboard or commercial with the tag line, “Bill’s Repair Service: we may not know everything, but we certainly know more than you.”? I’d hire that guy.

Anyways, here’s the thing: there are certain problems, questions or situations that can stump the first level of expertise we call upon. They don’t know or can’t figure it out either. If we’re fortunate, we get referred to the next level of expertise. At this next level, usually 9 out of 10 issues can be solved or answered. One out of ten, though, will still be a stumper. Again, if we’re persistent and lucky (stubborn and ornery) we can be referred to yet another level of expertise.

So, you get the idea, right? There’s a phone tree of experts out there for any particular subject. If we are willing to stay on the line (keep pursuing the answer), we will get transferred from ‘expert’ to ‘expert’ up the knowledge chain with the belief that we will eventually end up with the ‘one who really knows’. The expert’s expert.

I’ve done this on numerous occasions for various problems or questions.

It’s a fascinating experience.

Here’s the summary:

If my quest involved a mechanical problem, at the level of the expert’s expert, their answer has been: “I can tell you how to fix that but it would be too expensive. You’re better off just buying a new one.”

If my quest involved a medical situation or even a scientific question, at the end of the line, at the expert’s expert level, the answer has been: “We don’t know exactly. They’re are numerous theories out there. We’re still doing a lot of work on that.”

Not knowing seems to be the norm.

I want you to know that.

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