Brexit: Twilight of the Experts?

by | Jun 27, 2016

Populism is becoming a powerful force, as we saw in last week’s referendum in the U.K. that led the British to vote to exit from the European Union.

This way of thinking maintains that good, wholesome people are being mistreated by a small circle of corporate, political, or social elites, who can be defeated if the people recognize what’s happening and band together to fight their oppressors.

I don’t have an opinion about the UK vote to leave the EU (“Brexit”), but I was struck by one of the comments that became emblematic of the passions driving the debate.

Virtually all the economic and political “experts” had warned that leaving the EU would have drastic effects on Britain. Speaking to these warnings, Michael Gove, Member of Parliament, in arguing for the exit, said in a television interview,

“The people of this country have had enough of experts.”

Experts, usually spoken of with respect for their expertise, are now the exact opposite of what people want. Why is that?

Michael White pointed out: “Expert opinion ought to embrace more humility than it routinely does… Medical experts routinely overturn their own advice, on sugar versus fats, for example—advice that has done harm… When every voter can dial Google, we need to improve the way we do interactive, elite-public dialogue.”

The Problem of Expertise

There’s a specific problem that subject-matter experts run into when they attempt to interact with newcomers.

As you gain expertise, you naturally evolve away from the open-minded inquiry that typifies most newcomers. When you don’t know much, you’re open to just about anything. As you get more educated, the options narrow, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s part of the process of becoming more experienced yourself.

But for an expert who has been practicing her craft or trade or profession for decades, it’s all too easy to forget the struggles of the newcomer. As instructional authors, teachers, subject matter experts, or anyone else trying to pass along knowledge to less-experienced folks, we forget.

Why?

  • We hang out with our peers. When you’re an expert, that’s other experts. Naturally, we become more attuned to the interests of others like us.
  • Our students (customers, readers) idealize us. When we respect someone and admire them for some achievement, it’s very easy to start thinking the person you so admire is an expert on *everything,* that somehow their opinion has more weight.
  • We objectify our students (clients, readers). It’s natural for experts to put people they are coaching or instructing into categories, and to use “boilerplate” responses to inquiries.

Of course, there are still many benefits to acquiring expertise, and we genuinely rely on experts all the time. If your pipes spring a leak, are you going to buy a book on plumbing? Of course not, you’re going to call an expert—in this case, one called a “plumber.”

Experts in Book Publishing

Indie authors run into experts all the time. I should know—I am one myself. But like everyone else, I have a lot of expertise in some areas (book publishing, graphic design, low-carb cooking, etc.) and almost no expertise in lots of other areas (plumbing, …).

My clients and readers rely on me for expertise they can use for their own benefit, and I’m happy to offer it in the hope I will also gain something from our interaction.

Here’s a story. Years ago, I used to attend the monthly meetings of my local publishing group because I wanted to know what the people new to publishing were thinking and worrying about.

I had to. It had been a long time since I started out in publishing, and the world was different. This is the essential problem for experts. When you forget what it’s like to be a newcomer, or if you have never faced the challenges newcomers face today, you may not be able to connect well with your audience. And that means a loss of trust.

Knowing the problems people were having, the questions that were keeping them up at night, kept me in touch with these new authors. I wrote down every question asked for over 2 years. Now, of course, I don’t have to do that because people bring their questions to me on this blog.

My Best Tips on Expertise

For experts: rediscover the anxieties, the passion, and the enthusiasm you had as a beginner. Remember that each person is on a personal journey that may have things in common with others, but which is utterly unique to them.

For dealing with experts: remember their expertise may be limited, and great skill or nuance in one endeavor doesn’t necessarily translate into being a paragon in other pursuits. Establish an “eye-level” relationship as human beings in addition to any due respect owed to their achievements.

Experts have a lot to offer, and have a lot to gain by helping others. Bringing awareness to our relationships can help us get the value from our relationships and avoid some of the pitfalls.

The biggest mistake “experts” can make is losing touch with their audience. What’s your experience? Have experts helped you? Or are they so aloof, isolated, and overbearing that you want to give them the “middle finger” like the Brits gave to the EU? Let me know in the comments.

tbd advanced publishing starter kit

31 Comments

  1. Nik Morton

    Inspired link of ‘Brexit’ with ‘experts’, Joel. I’m not an expert though after writing for fifty years I’ve gained experience (and sales) and written millions of words. When writing my book WRITE A WESTERN IN 30 DAYS I was at pains to say that my way isn’t the only way: ‘There’s no right way to write a novel. There are plenty of wrong ways, of course…’ So-called experts should offer guidance, not diktats.

    Reply
  2. Andrea

    Loved this article! We all live in our own bubble, and it’s easy to lose sight of other people’s realities when we don’t look outside the bubble that we live in. I’m not a Brit so can’t really comment on Brexit, but I know many Americans on both sides of the political aisle are pretty frustrated as well at a government and politicians who don’t seem to live in the same reality as the average American. Your article sheds a little light on how easily this can happen.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Andrea, that’s so true. No matter what field you look at, these same issues seem to arise. All we can do is be aware of the danger and attempt to stay as open-minded as we can for ourselves. I don’t write about politics on this blog, but the lessons to be learned as authors navigating the publishing world are everywhere.

      Reply
  3. Alison

    Another great article! There were so many ‘experts’ out there who had no hesitation in telling me what I was doing wrong with my writing that I almost gave up. Then one person told me how much they loved my first book. Now, I listen to what advice I’m offered, but I’m quite happy to jettison it if I don’t agree. It takes strength, but being true to what I want to do is more important.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Awesome, Alison! A perfect way to use experts without losing your own inner compass.

      Reply
  4. Jackie Weger

    I’m not a Brit, so leaving or joining the European Union…is a nation’s choice. But as a traveller across Europe, I chatted with ordinary people, folks like me. Farmers, waiters, owners of small, family owned wineries or olive oil presses, an old woman who raised chickens and a chocolatier in a tiny village in France. They all hated the EURO. They complained they could not buy their supplies from neighbors as they once did, nor sell to neighbors. On either end one had to import supplies and export products. A family with an apple orchard could no longer have a stand to sell apple on the small byway in front of the orchard. Which brings me to E.X.P.E.R.T.S. in our publishing industry. There ain’t any. Some may know how to do one thing well for himself or herself…but their ehow won’t work for me. I will accept that one may be highly skilled in a task or an esoteric field. Moreover every e.x.p.e.r.t. has an agenda–usually to get into my wallet. My mailbox is filled from people who want to tell me how to sell my books. They often tell indie authors to do things that are wholly against Amazon’s TOS~because they’ve never read the Terms. Here is a heads up: If your expertise comes from the legacy publishing universe, you ain’t on my side of the indie authorship fence. Some e.x.p.e.r.t.s. Eat Stupid for Breakfast. On their Webpage is a list of clients and books. I look. The books are sucking mud in stats. Book descriptions are filled with mixed verb tenses. Author bios read like a jobs resume. So. How did your product/skill/expertise help those authors? Because your site is showing me spectacular fails. Oops. I’m not an expert in anything. I’m not even a best selling indie author. Three years in, I’m still learning and adjusting to the changes in the indie universe. Had to teach myself the basics, because no e.x.p.e.r.t. is teaching the basics. Y’all have a good one. Appreciate the opportunity to have my say.

    Reply
    • Dan

      You lobbed an explosive right into a neolib’s foxhole, woman! You got any more of that stuff!? I feel and share your frustration ’cause basically “we’re all in the same boat!”

      Reply
      • Jackie Weger

        To Dan says: I am so not frustrated. I’m old, cranky and savvy. I tell like it is from my POV which just happens to be in the trenches. There is a real need for top-notch and knowledgeable service providers who get it and think for themselves. Since I posted my earlier reply, some fool emailed me…wants to help me get reviews on [book title] for $299. Huh? It already has 600. I’m good.

        Get this: Like most authors, many/most service providers have day jobs…writing is my day job and has been since I sat at my kitchen table in the early ’80s and penned my first book. Here’s my last word: Pffft. Laffin’.

        Reply
        • Joel Friedlander

          Jackie,

          Thanks for chiming in. Like any fast-growing field, self-publishing has attracted its share of predators, jerks, and scammers. It shows exactly why, more than anything else, authors who want to publish their own books need to educate themselves. And, like you, do their own “due diligence” to make sure they are dealing with trustworthy folks. “Experts” have a lot to offer, and can save us from predictable failures, but use them wisely.

          Reply
  5. Linda C. Senn

    Joel, instead of critiquing your hook, I want to thank you for opening my eyes to one of my well-intentioned shortcomings. In my initial face-to-face with a potential new coaching client, I sometimes get carried away with what, to me, is the excitement of the ever-changing book business — beyond their knowledge or interest level! Invariably, the potential laughs and stops me. But I’ll be more alert to “timely needs to know” now. Excellent insight!

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Linda, I’ve been there. When I realize I’ve been rattling on for a while I try to stop myself, and remind myself who I’m talking to and what my aim is. When I remember, that helps.

      Reply
  6. Will

    The issue with the ‘experts’ in the Brexit case, was that they were economic experts, the same ones who missed the financial crash which caused the global crisis we are still suffering the aftereffects of, and they also were totally wrong in their predictions of Scotland becoming rich from oil revenues after the Scotland referendum two years ago – so the opiions (or rather wonky guesses) of these ‘experts’ hardly carry much weight

    Reply
  7. Steve Fey

    Nice article, Joel. I suspect that there is more to Brexit than experts, but it’s good advice to always stay humble.

    Reply
  8. David Bergsland

    Great article, Joel. The only thing I think you missed about Brexit is that the anger is about experts by position.

    In other words, if you have a certain position in a bureaucracy, you are an expert—by definition. But the goal of a bureaucrat is to enhance and strengthen the bureaucracy.

    So, the so-called expert is really an expert in maintaining and increasing his or her position in the bureaucracy. In a world where having documentation that you formed a committee and produced a report is considered success—true expertise is completely lost in the process.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      David, perfect example of the “Peter Principle” whereby workers in large organizations with a clear hierarchy are promoted until they reach their level of incompetence, then they just stay there. Real expertise is quite different than occupying a specific desk in an organization.

      Reply
  9. Judith Briles

    Love this Joel. As one of those “publishing experts” … I have learned that keeping an in touch, in person with authors is at the top of my list. Each month, I do a freebie–an open mastermind on a Saturday AM from 9-12-all the author or author-to-be has to bring is a “healthy snack” to share. A flip chart is up (in summer, we are out on my upper deck and it’s packed)–questions are put up … and anything and everything is answered. The truth is, I know the answers–but the magic happens with the massive interaction and sharing that happens within the group. It’s open to any author in CO. Within AuthorU.org, the networking and schoomzing with monthly gatherings always keeps me in touch with hopes, fears, concerns and of course dreams. And, I just came off my annual 3-day Judith Briles Book Publishing Unplugged–that I limit to 35 so that I can know each book, each author and connect with them. What I love–I always …. always learn new things. Judith

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      What a great way to stay connected, Judith. I bet attendees love the opportunity you’ve created for them!

      Reply
  10. Pauline Baird Jones

    I loved this post and it is so spot on for authors as the publishing world continues to change. I recently listened to a talk about the power of not-knowing. It was about being open to learning again.

    Reply
  11. Susan

    Great article. Joel, talk about hitting the nail on the head. When ‘experts’ lose touch with their roots they become ineffective, except to other experts. Wow! You have made me think not just about Brexit but how I deal with my own experts and expertise. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks, Susan, thanks for reading.

      Reply
  12. Jamie

    I write tech tutorials for un-tech savvy colleagues. Once upon a time I wrote them for our customers, too.

    I have an Alton Brown style, where I tell you why I say you should do or not do a thing. “If you do X you will avoid Y problem. If you want B result, you have to do A.” That sort of thing. I like to take into account what a lay person will see and how they might react to it. “This looks scary, but if you’re just doing C you can ignore D, E, F, and G.”

    A lousy expert flings mindless rules about, making assumptions that everyone is going to do things the same way the expert would, and for the same reason. Whereas, good experts will state assumptions upfront and share the underlying principles behind their advice.

    For example, I would ignore any health expert who says “stop eating at 6 pm.” That’s not useful for me if I have just awakened for the day at 5 pm and need to go to work. Should I do my whole shift without eating? Does something happen to your body if you eat after 6 pm period, full stop, no matter what? Am I really being asked to believe humans are that fragile?

    It may turn out the lousy expert has the premise that “of course” everyone will go to bed at 10 pm, and so she tells people to stop at 6 because the true guideline is to stop eating four hours before bedtime. However, that first expert lacks the imagination to realize that not everyone shares her “of course,” and therefore her “stop at 6” advice is useless to everyone who doesn’t fit that parameter. If she’s particularly arrogant she’ll insist anyone ignoring her advice is an idiot.

    Whereas, a good expert would consider the existence of doctors, nurses, flight attendants, factory workers, police officers, etc. and realize that not everyone will sleep at night. That expert would therefore explain why it’s a bad idea to eat before you go to bed, and why it’s advantageous to have a four hour pre-bedtime cut off. Someone whose bedtime is at 10 am would conclude he should stop eating at 6 am. That second expert has earned respect and credibility.

    My rule is that when I have expertise to impart, I should behave like the second type of expert, because that’s precisely the kind whose advice I would follow. I have little use for the first type.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Jamie, that’s brilliant, especially your conclusion. Thanks for that. If more experts would “take into account what a lay person will see and how they might react to it” we would have fewer problems with those experts.

      Reply
  13. Ronald G Dodson

    I think you may be confusing some terminology. I don’t thing people are tired of experts. I think people are tired of self-absorbed, jerks. I could use more colorful and descriptive terminology, but I will pass.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      And you find those folks everywhere—in politics, in book publishing, in every human endeavor. And yes, they do get tiresome.

      Reply
  14. Dave D

    I think that last paragraph says it all. Even the most knowledgable expert was a mistake-prone rookie at one time.

    Then there’s this gem that was uttered by that great philosopher Socrates: “The only real wisdom is knowing you know nothing”

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Spot on, and thanks for the Socrates, Dave.

      Reply
  15. Emma

    Brexit is an horrific experience for anyone who didn’t vote leave (about half the Nation, not an insignificant proportion of people) and there’s a lot of grief.

    And you’ve used it as clickbait? Not what I expected from your blog. I’m disappointed. Had you written something more unique (the ‘expert’ thing isn’t a new concept if you spend any time reading marketing/publishing blogs) it would have been easier to take.

    As an example, “How Brexit could affect Independent Publishers & Authors” would have been more on point and a far more sensitive, less emotive and more useful read.

    Reply
  16. Michael W. Perry

    Ah, but in the case of Brexit, the real anger wasn’t just that the so-called experts had forgotten what it was like to be a newbie. It was that the experts in the EU and their counterparts in the UK economy and politics all over weren’t paying any attention to anyone’s concerns but their own and the special caste to which they belonged.

    You hear it all the time, talk about the ‘winners and losers in the world economy,’ as if that was inevitable. But is that really what is happening? Could it be that the winners are simply cheaters, using the EU in particular and crony capitalism in general to enrich themselves at the expense of others?

    For instance, Apple and a host of other high-tech companies and rich entertainers (i.e Bono/U2) have played games with their European taxes, moving money around between countries in ways that allow them reduce their corporate taxes to almost nothing. Here’s a story about Apple. Note that it’s paying $17 million in taxes for all its UK business.

    Apple has paid just £12.9 million ($17 million) in corporation tax in the United Kingdom last year, it has been discovered, an increase from £11.8 million in the previous year. The relatively low corporation tax payment revelation comes as the investigation into the company’s tax minimization activities across the European union nears completion, with the UK corporation tax level also seeming to be fairly low in comparison to how much profit it generated in the country alone.

    According to the MailOnline, Apple’s reported profits on its global operations for the last three months of 2015 equate to approximately £5.8 million ($76.5 million) per hour, which means it would have paid off the UK tax bill within just over two hours

    https://www.macnn.com/articles/16/06/27/corporation.tax.due.from.apple.for.last.year.in.uk.up.9.percent.from.previous.year.134779/

    Two hours income to pay all its UK corporate taxes. Compare that to the typical American, who must work until April 24 this year before they’ve earned enough to cover their taxes. Compare it too to a news story from not too long ago when a group of small UK business tried to create the same corporate entity that Apple was using to evade taxes. That idea was nixed by the UK’s revenue officials.

    Brexit isn’t just about overly proud experts or out-of-control immigration. It’s also about an wealthy few who game the system to their advantage even while they sneer at the averaage working Brit.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks for adding that perspective, Michael.

      Reply
  17. mary

    I was surprised to see you tweeting about Brexit. You are always so on topic. But of course you remained on topic. Great article

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks Mary. Lessons are everywhere, yes?

      Reply

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