Sunday, September 9, 2012

What’s the Definition of an Expert These Days?

The world-renowned scientist, Professor Stephen Hawkins, the recent master of ceremonies for the opening of the Paralympics in London said “the greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance – it’s the illusion on knowledge.”
As social media continues to find its role in our social and business lives is it encouraging more and more people to think or pretend that they are experts in a certain subject or field – feeling that to be less could be detrimental to their social standing?
We’ve seen in the past, for example, how society has created pressure through ‘size zero’ models leading to many young people developing eating disorders to achieve what they believed society demanded to be ‘accepted.’
So is social media ‘demanding’ that everyone must pretend to be an ‘expert’ to be accepted by society  and what are the potential dangers for business and more importantly these individuals careers, if this is the case?
Everyone has valuable opinions based on their experiences and what they have learnt through a combination of education, reading, listening, and/or just experimenting; and then applying what they have ‘learnt’ in specific or different environments. Hearing what people have experienced and ‘learnt’ in this context is definitely worth sharing, as we can then all learn something from everyone else (even if it’s how not to do something).
But the question is how many experiences ‘good’ and ‘bad’ does one have to have before one can be considered an expert in the field? – what is the benchmark that allows all of us to assess whether we are as knowledgeable as we need to be, rather than as we may think we are (or as we’d like others to think we are).
Social media seems to encourage people to write comments as if they are proven facts rather than what is only a personal opinion based on an unspecified number of experiences (or possible no experience what-so-ever and just a ‘blind’ belief based on something they have heard and/or read).
The Oxford dictionary (online) defines an expert as “a person who is very knowledgeable about or skilful in a particular area;” the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines an expert as “having, involving or displaying special skills or knowledge derived from training or experience;”  and the defines an expert as “a professional who has acquired knowledge and skills through study and practice over the years, in a particular field or subject, to the extent that his or her opinion may be helpful in fact finding, problem solving, or understanding of a situation.”
All of which tells me that we don’t really have a satisfactory definition of what an expert is in the first place and maybe some language ‘expert’ somewhere can come up with a definition which allows the title to be benchmarked and used appropriately, giving people something to really aspire to – a title that can be respected and trusted.
Otherwise the younger generation are going to find such an enormous amount of unsubstantiated ‘opinions’ written as fact, that we are going to create a learning ‘minefield’ rather than a global forum for ‘real’ knowledge transfer and exchange.
The Urban Dictionary’s (online) definition of an ‘expert’ probably gives a better indication of how society generally perceives the word in today’s socially engaging environment - (1.)Someone who thinks they knew how to do something but actually just screwed everything up. (2.) Someone who goes into a lengthy and serious explanation of doing something fairly simple or unimportant.
But maybe the fact that there isn’t a serious definition of the word is part of the reason that we continue to find many countries in recession and hear a constant stream of complaints about ineffective leadership in business across the globe - (yet so many ‘experts’ offering the ‘solution’ for it).
Radnedge, A. (2012). It all kicks off with a bang…a big bang. Metro. Thurs 30th August, p.4.

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