[late-night rant. you have been warned!]
We need expertise. We don’t need experts.
I want to work out how to build our skills together, rather than turning people into blinkered ‘experts’ in some narrow specialism.
The existence of ‘experts’ represents the failure of a community to cope with some issue. You can’t understand something, so you put a box around it and let one person tell you how to deal with it.
And once that has happened, the rest of the community can stop trying. They have an excuse not to think about the issue, and the experts protect their own position with jargon and intimidation. Knowledge becomes binary – you’re either an expert or an ignoramus. The barrier between the two is hard to cross.
What’s the alternative? Look at cookery. Some of us are gourmet chefs, some can barely peel a potato. But through all that range, there is no sudden point where somebody becomes an expert. And as a consequence we can all join in, we can all work together to cook a meal. And because we can work together, knowledge can pass along the spectrum, from cordon bleu to novice.
Imagine if we treated accounting like cookery. Sure, @arthurd would be in charge, but the rest of us would be chopping the carrots, and stirring the soup, and watching, and learning. And soon enough, somebody else would be ready to plan a meal without Arthur.
Government and corporations share a flawed love of experts. Partly it’s for ease of management – assigning work to a relevant ‘expert’ means you don’t need to break it down any further. Partly it’s because they don’t care about the inequity created.
Mostly, I think, it’s because they haven’t adjusted to a world of abundant education, free information, and easy communication. We have what @rmchase would call excess capacity in all the “knowledge industries”. We are surrounded by skilled, talented young people. But management ignores them in favour of the person who has spent 20 years in a vaguely related field, even if that field has now changed so much that their experience is irrelevant.
We can do better. Certainly better than government, maybe better than the corporations.
We can recognize that any skill is weak when it is owned by a few experts, and strong when it is the common property of the community. When we encounter an expert, our reaction should be to pull the expertise out and share it among the community. We should turn our experts into mentors, teachers, guides.
And in doing so, we can treat the experts as human. We can value them for the content of their character, for their engagement with the community, not for the length of their experience or the market worth of their skills. We can offer community and collaboration, interactions based on mutual respect rather than deference.
How do we get there? When I have a skill you don’t, I’ll teach it. When you can do something I can’t, I’ll listen and learn and help. And when there’s a job to be done I’ll stop looking for experts, and start looking to our community.