Know where you are an expert and where you are an idiot

Know where you are an expert and where you are an idiot


Most people are expert in a few areas, get overconfident and think they are experts in everything. #HoskWisdom

It takes confidence to admit you are not an expert in all areas and you should defer to someone who is. There is no shortcut to becoming an expert, it takes years of learning, experience and practice to have a deep level of understanding on a subject. Don’t tell an expert what to do it in their area of expertise because you become an idiot who over rules experts and in the long term this doesn’t work out well.

Admit you don’t know

It takes confidence to say you don’t know and most people will go with a solution they heard from someone or seems reasonable. Few people defer to an expert and many people are afraid to ask a question which could make them look stupid, instead preferring to live without that clarification and knowledge.

“A remarkable aspect of your mental life is that you are rarely stumped … The normal state of your mind is that you have intuitive feelings and opinions about almost everything that comes your way. You like or dislike people long before you know much about them; you trust or distrust strangers without knowing why; you feel that an enterprise is bound to succeed without analyzing it.” — Daniel Kahneman

Are brain is built to function without having all the knowledge, so it’s the emphasis is on our thinking and decisions to catch the moments when we mind is moving forward with the information it has.

Catch your brain forming quick opinions and avoid over ruling experts, instead use questions to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your ideas.

Circle of competence

You are might be thinking why is this important? why should I care?

When we move outside our circle of competence, we increase the chances of mistakes and create problems for ourselves. When we stick to what we are good at, we are working in an environment that is suited to our skills, when we move out we are potentially working in an environment where we aren’t suited and don’t have the knowledge or skills to operate successfully.

Tiger Woods is great at golf but if he was challenged by a below average computer programmer to write a computer program, he would lose. If Tiger Woods opened a restaurant there is no guarantee that it would be successful because Tiger Woods is an expert in golf not cooking (that I know of). His expertise in Golf won’t help him with his restaurant.

“As they say in poker, “If you’ve been in the game 30 minutes and you don’t know who the patsy is, you’re the patsy.” — Warren Buffett

Overruling experts

It’s easy for individuals to become the patsy. I worked on an IT project where the customer put forward and insisted on a technical solution.

I mentioned that you hired us technical experts and this isn’t the solution we would recommend. The individual had worked with that technical solution in a previous company but didn’t have the knowledge of the current technical solution to know it was a bad idea.

The technical solution turned out to work slowly and later that person complained about it.

We referred back to the discussion and evidence that we didn’t recommend this solution and they overruled us and took the responsibility for the decision. The end result was a change request to implement the solution we previously suggested.

You don’t know what you don’t know

A little bit of knowledge gives false confidence that we are knowledgeable in it but this is because you don’t know the detail. Experts consider decisions and a greater depth that novices don’t even consider.

We all have a few tricks

In the article from Farnam Street blog 12 Life Lessons From Mathematician and Philosopher Gian-Carlo Rota there is a section called Every mathematician has only a few tricks

“We don’t need to be amazing at everything to do high-quality work. The smartest and most successful people are often only good at a few things — or even one thing. Their secret is that they maximize those strengths and don’t get distracted. They define their circle of competence and don’t attempt things they’re not good at if there’s any room to double down further on what’s already going well.” Shane Parrish

The article quotes Gian-Carlo Rota

“mathematicians, even the very best, also rely on a few tricks which they use over and over”

Playing and managing

There are lots of world class footballers who assume their expertise in playing football and working with great managers will enable them to become a great manager themselves. The skill of playing football and managing a football team are completely different.

Playing is an individual skill — fitness, tactics, position specialization and how you as individual fit in the team

Managing is tactics, motivation, recruitment, etc. Managing is considering the team and all the people involved (not just playing staff).


Don’t try to be an expert in everything, understand what areas you are the expert and what areas you are not. Who in the team has more experience and knowledge in this area and ask their opinion. Are brains make it easy for us to have an opinion but we have to check it’s not leading us astray or creating problems for us.

It’s hard to admit we don’t know but you will get more respect for doing it. Saying you don’t know isn’t a sign a weakness, it’s an honest assessment that this isn’t your area of expertise and to defer to an expert in this area.

We have an edge when dealing with areas we are an expert in, when we move outside of our expertise we have no edge and shouldn’t play there.

Know where you are an expert and where you are an idiot

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