Frustration Friday: Elites Aren’t Experts

As we look over a devastated job market in many parts of the world, collapsing banks, scandal in venerable institutions, and just plain stupidity by supposedly smart and powerful people it's important to keep one thing in mind.

Elite doesn't mean Expert.

Someone who is famous, rich, powerful, even an elected official is not necessarily someone that knows what the hell is going on, how things run, and what to do about it.

This is not necessarily a bad or unavoidable thing.  Someone who is President or Prime Minister is not by definition going to know everything.  Sometimes people end up in positions for reasons beyond skill, as I've noted, and some of these reasons are legitimate and acceptable.  However, we have to stop treating the Elites like Experts.

Those television personalities out there?  They're they're to be entertaining a lot of the time, not because they're good at anything.  I'd say the Mythbusters and Mike Rowe display more actual examples of Expertise in things than say your average "personality" with their own show dispensing radically bad advice.

The elected officials?  They're good at getting elected, and hopefully good at leadership.  They hopefully were good at some things, Experts at some things, but they can't be Experts at everything.  At best they know this, at worse they're know-nothing opportunists playing you for a sap.

The business leaders?  Some are geniuses (I live in Silicon Valley, home to many geniuses).  Some are just good at using the system.  Don't mix up people like, say, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates with financial hacks who are just good at creating short-term stock gains and long-term pain.

Academia?  There's true Experts and then there's people protecting their position and seeking to become one of the above through any means necessary.  I tend to have confidence in Academia, but it too has the Elite versus Expert problem.

So remember, Elites do not mean they're Experts.  Your first key one of the Elites is a dangerous fool is when they act like Experts without any evidence they are, and when they don't call on Experts in the first place.

As you navigate the choppy career waters of the Great Recession, a little cynicism will serve you well.  You'll find Elites to avoid listening to – and Experts and Elites who deserve their position to listen to.

– Steven Savage