Our society is obsessed with so-called experts.
From a young age, you are told to “study this” or “do that”.
You’re told to apply to this college or that university.
You’re told to get this degree or that certification.
Then… Some day… you will be an expert in your field.
If you want to be a doctor, a scientist, a business person, or some kind of expert academic dude, you can count on it taking at least 5-10 years before you start earning the money you want, or get the respect you deserve.
To be honest, it will probably take you even longer than that, unless you’re good at promoting yourself…
But what if you don’t want to become someone like that?
And what if being an expert is overrated?
Then I have some good very news for you.
In most cases, you don’t need to put in all that time into becoming an expert, if you’re only in it to get status, money, respect, or similar benefits.
For the most part you can actually just be “good enough”.
In many career paths it’s often better to be a well-rounded person who’s “good enough” at many things, than it is to be an expert who’s great at one or two things.
Why is this?
I’ll tell you why in more detail soon. Just read on.
Listen, here’s what I want you to take away from this piece: Sometimes it’s necessary to become an expert to reach your goals, other times — most of the time — it’s not.
The problem is that most of mainstream society don’t understand what it means to be an expert, what role an expert plays, and what the real benefits of being an expert is. Because they never think about it or question why.
I want you to really question these things, so that you don’t end up like many other people — wasting time, money, and possibly even your career doing things you don’t need to do.
What We’ll Be Going Through
- Society worships experts, almost like a religion. Why is this?
- What power do experts have?
- Becoming an expert is usually overrated, except in a few situations. I’ll tell you which ones
- Becoming “good enough” at a combination of things is often a much better use of your time. Why is this?
- You can enjoy the same benefits as the expert, without having to put in all that work, if you understand how.
Consider what I’m about to tell you a long-term game plan for self-development.
Why Experts Exist
Leaders and followers. Wolves and sheep. Bosses and employees. Entrepreneurs and bureaucrats. Experts and laymen.
Have you ever stopped to consider why we use these expressions? And why we put them in contrast to one another?
The reason we do this is not only because they reflect how the world looks. There’s a larger, underlying, phenomenon at work: The limited capacity of the human brain.
And this limitation of ours is why we have an unconscious tendency of trusting experts, and sometimes even putting them on a pedestal.
Let me tell you why.
The Paradox of Choice
There’s a book called The Paradox of Choice written by scientist Barry Schwartz. The big message of that book is that most people think they like having a lot of choice, but they actually don’t.
Schwartz says that the common notion that, “more choice equals more freedom which leads to more happiness”, is completely false for most people.
Because most people can’t handle having too many choices/options/freedom. It confuses them, and they don’t want to have to think.
Generals, rulers, and powerful politicians have known about this long before it was supported by science. For example, Lenin wrote:
Freedom is a very dangerous thing. We ration it very sparingly.
Smart business people have known to profit by it too. Henry Ford said that:
If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.
And Steve Jobs said that:
A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.
And the reason people don’t know what they want is because they haven’t spent that much time thinking about it.
1) It’s never been a serious problem to them, so why should they think of it?
2) They have probably never been exposed to the thing/idea/environment, so how could they think of it?
By just the same logic, if you asked the Average Joe about something related to self-development, like what some of his long-term goals are, he probably wouldn’t have a clue.
He doesn’t know what he wants until he’s told what he should want by an expert.
That average guy just hasn’t put much thought into improving his life or expanding his options. He’s not thinking long-term at all. He’s busy following typical mainstream advice and jumping through the hoops of society, and with the remainder of his time he watches TV and drinks Coca Cola.
This is the type of guy who gets into self-development and spiritual stuff when he’s 40+, dumped by his wife for being a loser, has a midlife crisis, and finally “sees the matrix”. Then he tells everyone he meets that society has lied and cheated him out of the best years of his life. Someone else is to blame for the fact that he didn’t do any thinking of his own.
You know what I mean.
When People Want Choice — And When They Don’t
He says that you want to enlist the help of experts in two kinds of situations:
- When it’s a matter of life or death. (rarely).
- When you’re really short on time or energy. (Often)
Ok, so there isn’t really much to say about #1. It’s a no-brainer. If your life is on the line you will pay any price to preserve it. You’re not concerned with saving money or energy, because all of it is being poured into saving your life.
But #2 is more interesting…
Because, when you are short on time, the aforementioned “paradox of choice” arises. You don’t want more options — you want fewer options. You don’t have the time or the energy to go through all options.
So what do you do?
You probably look to see what an expert is saying and you take his advice at face value. That is the norm.
When time is low and confusion is high, nearly everyone wants someone else to decide for them.
Then this is amplified by the fact that most people don’t even like making decisions.
Because either they have weak willpower, or because they’ve already exhausted their willpower and energy for that day, and need to recover.
So, that’s where the experts come in. They save you time, energy, and possibly pain, by deciding for you when you don’t want to decide yourself.
There is nothing wrong with this — as long as you’re conscious of what’s going on. The only sin is ignorance.
The only problem is that most people are ignorant.
“I don’t need to think… I’ll just listen to the experts and the authorities. They know what’s best for me…
And on top of this ignorance you can add the fact that most people don’t even like making decisions in the first place. They’ll avoid it if they can — and they can!
That’s why experts have power. The majority of their power lies in their ability to influence other people’s decisions.
…What they should wear, eat, buy, think, read, etc.,
This is why Napoleon Bonaparte said:
Nothing is more precious than being able to decide.
Quick Recap: Why People Want/Need Experts
- Because of the limited capacity of the brain. To narrow down choices and simplify things.
- In life or death situations
- When time or energy is short
- If they don’t like making decisions (few people do)
Alright, we’ve now cleared up some of the reasons why experts are popular.
We’ve also cleared up why you’d want to become an expert: To gain status, influence, and power — which can result in making a lot of money, if used intelligently.
Now, let’s take a look at how you can be “good enough” and still get the same benefits as most experts.
Don’t believe me?
Does it sound too good to be true?
Don’t jump to conclusions yet.
How to Get the Same Benefits as An Expert, But Faster and With Less Effort
The other day I was carrying an awkward, big-ass heavy couch. I carried it out from one apartment building into another apartment building. And then I couldn’t get it into the damn elevator. It was annoyingly close, about an inch away from fitting!
It was extremely irritating because I had to go back with the couch — mission failed.
The reason the couch didn’t fit was because the elevator door was designed in a “stylish” (idiot) way that took up extra space. The architect who designed it was a fucking dumbass who cared more about making a cool door than he cared about making a convenient elevator.
This immediately made me think about the book Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand. Because that’s one of the main themes of that book…
…but the book also says some very smart things on the topic of influencing people:
…As the summer months passed, as his list was exhausted and he returned again to the places that had refused him once, Roark found that a few things were known about him and he heard the same words –spoken bluntly or timidly or angrily or apologetically –“You were kicked out of Stanton. You were kicked out of Francon’s office.” All the different voices saying it had one note in common: a note of relief in the certainty that the decision had been made for them
…a note of relief in the certainty that the decision had been made for them.
In the case of this quote, the decision was made using social proof. And this is the most powerful way of influencing people’s decisions.
How does it work?
People base their decision off of the judgment of other people — especially the judgment of people they look up to, or experts.
But listen, here’s the thing: Experts sometimes have social proof, but you don’t need to become an expert just to get it!
If you appear to be chosen by others, you can get a similar kind of influence — a similar power — that the expert has…
…without you having to put in 10000 hours to get a
fancy doctorate degree or some other bullshit like that.
Let Me Give You the Marketing Perspective
Al Ries and Jack Trout are two very well-known marketing gurus. They’re most famous for coining the term positioning.
Positioning means having a specific association in the mind of your target audience. In plain English this means: How people see you.
Guess which is the best sort of positioning that you can have?
Best as in most profitable, that is…
Is it to be seen as an expert?
Close, but no cigar — guess again.
Ries and Trout say that the best positioning is to be seen as being popular.
NOT being an expert, not being the best. But being popular.
So, even if you were the world’s foremost expert in some niche, you still wouldn’t influence as many people, or make as much money, as the most popular guy in that niche would.
[Note: And let’s take it further. You don’t even have to be the best. In marketing perception is reality. So, it doesn’t matter if you actually are the best, all that matters is whether people believe you are, and associate you with being the best at something. But, even if you were the best, it still wouldn’t be as profitable as being perceived as popular would be.]
How crazy is that?
Not only do you NOT have to actually be the best, but you don’t even need to be perceived as the best.
You only need to be perceived as being POPULAR.
You think I’m bullshitting you?
…and this isn’t just true in business or marketing. This is a general principle that can applied to nearly everything.
Think about it:
- Nearly everybody buys Coke over Pepsi, despite the fact that blind test experiments show that people actually prefer the taste of Pepsi.
- It’s not necessarily the most ripped, rich, well-dressed, and successful guy who gets all the girls in the club. It’s the guy who’s there with a bunch of other girls and appears to be popular and fun.
- It’s rarely the candidate who looks best on paper that gets the job. Employers will nearly always pick the candidate who has a personal connection with someone else who works there.
That’s the awesome power of having some relevant social proof — and being perceived as popular.
So, if you can combine that popularity with being “good enough” in a couple of different areas of your life, you can still get the same results as the expert, without having to put in those proverbial 10000 hours of hard work.
Situations Where Most People Think They Need an Expert — But Really Don’t
You could say that 90 % of people want simple and ready-made products and the other 10 % like customization, and having more choice.
This is why Apple computers sell so well. Because the 90 % “just want their damn computer to work”.
Remember, this is part of the “Paradox of Choice” phenomenon I told you about before.
Most people don’t like choice since they don’t want to — or can’t — handle it. They’re busy processing other information. And due to energy limitations (or untrained brains) they want to avoid any new choices…
…because having a choice implies having to make a decision, and making decisions requires energy and willpower — that they don’t have. Point being: In certain situations people don’t like to think. They’d rather listen to an expert.
The problem with this is that most people don’t know this. They don’t make the distinction between,
“I don’t want to do this”
“I can’t do this myself“
And the result of this is? That’s right…they give away power to experts at times when there is no need for it. And they are more likely to be influenced by social proof and look to do the popular thing.
This is why people follow crazy trends. This is why old ladies and middle-aged men have bought yoga pants that they look horrible in.
Here are some typical examples where people take advice they often don’t need:
- Doctor appointments, drug use, and medical advice
- Financial investments
- Business and entrepreneurship
- Advanced technical stuff
…Just to name a few.
Can you think of any other ones?
How Experts Take Advantage of This
The thing is that you could handle most of these things yourself, if you wanted to.
Sometimes it makes sense to listen to the expert, or look at reviews and see what’s popular, and so on. It makes sense IF — and only if — after having thought about it, you determine that the gains outweigh the losses.
But my point is that…
You rarely need an expert to help you decide. It’s just that most people have been indoctrinated to think that way.
Experts usually take advantage of this situation and try to make as much money off of you as they can. Instead of benevolently looking out for you as a client, they try to cheat you.
Take the financial sector for example. It’s more or less a complete fraud. They dress up half-wits in nice suits and train them in salesmanship. These half-wits then talk you into getting an index fund, and then proceed to steal your hard-earned money through yearly placement fees.
Do you really need an expert to place your money in an index fund?
You could do the same thing yourself in an hour, and cut out the middleman.
But of course the financial person will tell you how much you need him, and how your investments will dwindle unless he looks over them (he won’t).
The financial sector is one of those examples where you can be just “good enough” and you’ll still do as well as most experts. Because hardly anyone beats the index consistently without having huge sums of money.
So your time is probably better spent doing something else.
Now, let’s talk about the type of situations where you definitely want to be an expert…
When You Want to Be an Expert: The Superstar Effect
The Superstar Effect is at play when there is a disproportionate reward to be gained by being the very best at something. When it’s “winner-takes-all”. Good examples are superstar celebrities and athletes — hence the name.
3 different examples of the Superstar Effect:
- #1: Lebron James, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Roger Federer earn millions upon millions of dollars a year. But what about that guy who came in second? Exactly… You don’t even know his name. And, more importantly, he doesn’t get the endorsement deals. That’s where the money is.
- #2: Vanilla ice cream consistently outsells chocolate — and every other flavor — many times over in almost every country.
- #3: The top blockbuster movies outsell the second or third most popular movies many times over. Compare Avatar to the other movies premiering at the same time. According to Wikipedia, Avatar grossed $77 M its opening weekend. At the same time the second and third most popular movies that weekend probably didn’t earn more than $5-20M.
Can you think of any other good examples?
Anyway, the Superstar Effect does NOT apply to self-development.
So there is no incredible gain to be had by memorizing all of Tony Robbins’ books.
When The Superstar Effect is NOT at Play
Let’s take socializing/being charismatic as an example. There is no such thing as a Superstar Effect there, unless if you’re a Hollywood Celebrity.
And you’re not.
So if you want to be someone who’s interesting and entertaining to be around you just need to be cooler than the average person.
And you WILL be cooler than the average person if you’re “good enough” at a combination of things.
Now, let’s talk about pickup, because there are a lot of young guys who think they need to be great at that. They think they need to be expert pickup artists.
…and that’s WRONG.
To pick up a woman in a club, you simply need to be cooler — more interesting or fun — than the other guys in that club. And not necessarily all of them.
Because you’re only going to be compared to the other people in that same environment. The girl is not going to compare you with Brad Pitt. He’s not there. But Bob, the fat slob is. And you’re looking pretty cool in comparison to him.
All it takes is being “good enough”. And this is often the case for women too, although looks matter much more as a woman.
In both cases, there is no need to become an expert at pickup, dating, or whatever you want to call it. Because most people will settle for what they get — and they don’t know what they want until they get it.
There is no Superstar Effect to be had by becoming “the best person in the world” at picking up women, or by flirting with men.
Because if you’re doing these things you’re not competing with the whole world. Only with the other people in the same environment. It’s all relative to your closest surrounding and who you’re being compared to.
The smart thing (in terms of ROI) is to just be “good enough” and then create some social proof and leverage that so that you’re perceived as being popular.
That’s a better use of your time.
When Being “Good Enough” Works Even Better Than Being An Expert
They say that to become an expert at something it takes 10000+ hours of work.
They also say that to become an expert you need to make all possible mistakes in a narrow field of knowledge.
That may be so. But most people don’t want to pay that price — most people don’t want to be experts. Most people just want to be good enough.
…And if we’re to listen to Harry Beckwith, author of Selling the Invisible, that also works surprisingly well in getting the attention of other people when it comes to marketing an intangible item, such as your expertise/competence.
If you try to position yourself by saying that you’re the best in the world at something, you’ll instantly make people think: “I doubt it.” and they’ll become skeptical, unless you have a Nobel Prize or other impressive credentials.
So unless you are 100 % sure that you really are the best, you shouldn’t do it.
But if you just say that you’re good, great, or better than 80 % of the rest, and add in some other benefit, then you can still market yourself and your personal brand successfully!
Unless it’s one of those cases where people want experts only, like in life or death situations. Saying “I’m Dr Bob, the decent but friendly brain surgeon”, won’t work.
When Being Seen As an Expert Can Be a Disadvantage
People are going to have a much easier time understanding you and identifying with you when you’re just “good enough” at something.
Because then there’s typically a lower risk that you suffer the curse of knowledge. Meaning that you don’t confuse laymen.
When you’re “good enough” at more than one thing, you can explain things in a way that other people can understand. Believe me, this stuff comes across in your communication with others.
But if you become an expert most people will not identify with you as easily. They’re likely to put you on a pedestal, or they may secretively become jealous and dislike you — although they will probably take your advice.
This is taken from the website of a semi-famous expert doctor. He targets normal people. Do you think they understand this? This is the curse of knowledge at work.
How (smart) Experts Deal With This
Most people don’t identify with multimillionaires and elite people. They can’t comprehend that lifestyle. So, how do smart elites try to deal with this?
They’ll downplay their status and try to seem more “ordinary” than they really are.
“Me? I’m just like you! I go to church just like you do. I always contribute to my community and help out in the soup kitchen. And I eat junk food, like you do. Why am I a billionaire? Who knows, I just got lucky! I just did what I loved doing and with the help of God things worked out.”
Being identified as ordinary — and being likeable — is probably the single most important characteristic required to be a successful politician.
Because if he’s not likeable, he won’t be picked by the masses. The masses care more about liking the candidate and about being entertained, than they care about how the country is run. It’s always been like that.
That’s why Romney lost to Obama. (not that I was pro-Romney or anything)
I don’t watch TV much. But some time ago I watched the entire series House of Cards. It’s the best TV series I’ve ever seen, so I’m not too unhappy about that decision.
The main character in House of Cards is Francis Underwood, played by my favorite actor: Kevin Spacey. Underwood is a hyper-Machiavellian vice president who’s scheming to become president — and he’s completely ruthless.
He doesn’t even shy away from killing people…
…that’s how pragmatic he is.
He will pay ANY price to accomplish his goals
Yet, for some reason, there are scenes where he plays video games and gets high. This shit nearly ruined the series for me.
Then it got me thinking…
Why was that scene shot?
1) To help the typical male viewer identify more with Frank Underwood by thinking…
“He’s just like me — I play video games and get high too. So by association I can also become the vice president!”.
2) An excuse for product placement and to earn Netflix money.
Other Ways of Getting the Benefits of Being An Expert Without Putting in 10000 Hours
Ok, so social proof is the first, and probably most efficient way you can hack the system and get the same influential effect as the expert.
Here are a couple of other strategies/things you can do to gain authority and influence.
Write Books on a Topic
There are two ways you can do this. The first is the typical — serious — approach to it whereby you strive to create a killer book. The second way is much easier — and anyone can do it — whereby you go for quantity over quality and strive to create as many books as possible to make you seem like an expert.
[Note: Here’s how you pull off #2.
You decide on a topic for your book. You divide it in 10-12 chapters. You come up with good headlines for the chapters. Then you record yourself talking about each of these topics until the book is finished. Then you transcribe it for cheap and hire a decent cover designer to make it look cool.
The reason you can pull this off so quickly is because you speak many times faster than you write. So, if you’ve got a lot of experience with something you can easily create a book like this in a day.
Use this strategy at your own risk. It could be useful for certain things, like getting PR for yourself or quickly creating the credentials for becoming a professional speaker: “Dear audience, I now welcome Doug Douglass, author of 10 books on plumbing.”
…But at the end of the day you never want to do this if you want to play in the big leagues, because the books you’re putting out will be shit. If no one reads them, that’s not a problem. But if someone does, it reflects poorly on you.]
Give (free) Speeches (and film it)
This is a sure shot way to show off your knowledge and expertise. If you’re already a well-respected professional at something this should be easy for you. If you’re not, you should start small and seek out events, universities, high schools, etc.,
Personally I want to give 1-2 TEDx talks before 2014 is over, and a TED talk before I’m 30.
Make Yourself Visible (and show off your skills)
There are many ways you can do this, but they all take a lot of time. Here are a couple of examples:
- Create a website/blog dedicated to sharing (and showing off) your knowledge on a certain topic
- Join a popular forum related to your niche and start answering people’s questions. Eventually you’ll stand out
- Make a conscious effort to help successful people (for free) with their projects, and cash in by becoming friends with them, or by getting referrals
Can you think of any other ways?
Is it Worth it Becoming An Expert?
At the end of the day, you gotta ask yourself whether you want to become an expert — or not.
If you do, that’s awesome.
Just make sure you think it through first, because it might be a waste of time depending on the reason you’d want to become an expert.
You could “hack” yourself to getting those same beneficial results much faster, without putting in those proverbial 10000 hours.
Think about it.
Sometimes you want to be an expert — the very best. Especially if the Superstar Effect is at play.
Sometimes — most of the time — being “good enough”, building relevant social proof, and being someone who’s likeable and easy to identify with is even better.
It depends on the context.
It depends on your goal.
It depends on who you want to attract.
And being “good enough” still isn’t easy.
Most people are at best mediocre at many things.
My strategy is to become “good enough” at many things — and then we’ll see.
What about you?
Do you want to become an expert?