Wednesday, 7 May 2014

What to expect when you're an expert

So, do you value the opinion of experts? If you do then maybe you need to do so with some caution. A 2007 study gave 40 students a memory test consisting of eleven animal names and eleven body parts. There was also a twist, all the animal names were also NFL team names, like dolphins, colts, seahawks and bears. The group was divided into those who knew their NFL pretty well and those who didn’t, essentially NFL experts and NFL non-expects.
When the results of the memory test for the two groups were compared, the NFL experts remembered more of the animal names than the non-experts, while there was no difference between groups on the body parts test. Interestingly though, the researchers also tested for incorrect answers. They looked at NFL animal team names and body parts that were not part of the original test.
The results indicated that the experts were much more likely to make incorrect guesses than the non-experts. The researchers suggest that this may be a memory error. The domain-relevant information (or expertise) of the experts, got in the way of their accurate recall of the animal names. There was no difference between groups in body part experience, false answers were about even between groups on that test.
The point here is that experts have expertise in specific areas (NFL) but this does not improve performance in other areas (body parts). You may have a consultant who is an expert in financial management but this is no guarantee of success in marketing management and visa versa. Expertise is not necessarily transferable. 
Experts may also have such a depth of their specialist area that this may inhibit their thinking. They see everything against the backdrop of their expertise and this can impact on their reasoning, memory or how they approach problems. Just like the NFL experts, they may perform no better in more general tasks and indeed even under perform in their own areas.
The take away from this is that experts need to play to their strengths and focus on their own domains of knowledge. Keep an eye out for a few more mistakes that you might otherwise expect. That’s expert advice. 

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