There Are No Experts, Only More Experiences

Red herring @ Lowestoft, Suffolk
Image by timparkinson

After reading the chatter about clown-gate and ensuing social media expert bashing posts last month, the first reaction was to ignore it and continue real work. It was the ultimate red herring. But upon further reflection, it seems necessary to point out that all parties became obsessed with the word expert. There really is no such thing, there are only experiences.

The reemergence of the social media expert meme was fueled by two well known voices who have had great successes in the past. Yet they sought to put themselves above their peers. Why? Who knows. Perhaps they were trying to sell books or needed attention. Maybe they were just venting.

It doesn’t matter.

Some of us have more experiences than others. This lends insight into current situations, and can usually lead to a better result.

However, as the old saying goes, you are only as good as your last ball game. We each have an opportunity to excel or fail every day. Even failure provides an experience, one that can create growth.

What does matter is that those of us who care about our business avoid petty distractions. We need to continue serving our customers with great communications. And we have to keep evolving. The media continues to change, becoming faster, and more mobile and visual. Staying abreast of this ever changing online world, and continuing to deliver excellence is the real task at hand.

It is only by gaining more experiences that we can excel. What do you think?

Additional Conversations

Jim Long: Work Hard, Be Excellent, Kick Ass, and Let That Be Your Differentiator

Shel Holtz: I’d Hire a Social Media Expert, and Maybe You Should, Too

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  • http://www.ann-sense.com/ Ann Marie van den Hurk, APR

    I really appreciate the title of this post and the sentiment. So true… You are as good as your last ball game. Failure does create growth. And honing skills is a must in this fast changing environment.

    • Anonymous

      Thank you, ma’am!

  • http://twitter.com/thebrandbuilder Olivier Blanchard

    Two quick thoughts on this topic, if I may:

    1. Some people are a little more clever than others. They find the angles faster. They connect the dots better. These are people we often refer to as “experts.” Are they truly experts? Maybe. But it is far more likely that they fall more into the category of the ‘savant’ or the prodigy – someone whom, through a combination of experience, talent, passion and brains (but especially talent) has a tendency to become exceedingly good at something with relative ease. The Mozarts and Picassos of the world. People like Jay-Z, Richard Branson, Chris Hutchens and Madeleine Albright.  They had to start by being good at something. By having a talent to hone, and preferably more than one. Working on that talent, that skill, often and doing it well contributed to their becoming somewhat of an authority on the subject, either as a teacher or an analyst or a virtuoso. That talent, aptitude, ability has to be there first. If it doesn’t exist, what you are dealing with even when their platform reaches millions of people, is a pundit, nothing more. 

    2. As for experience and expertise, think about how many worthless executives and managers you have run into who have 20, 30, 40 years of “experience.” Does experience mean they are good at what they do? No. It means they have been doing the same mediocre job for 20, 30, 40 years, getting the same things wrong over and over again, falling for the same incorrect assumptions, propping up the status quo. “Experience” in and of itself, as a quantifier devoid of a qualifier is nothing more than mechanics: It is the assumption that a machine which produces the same crooked nail for 40 years is somehow more valuable than the machine that has so far produced proper nails for only two. It is an absurd standard. Experience finds its relevance only when it furthers talent and aptitude – in other words, when it serves to perfect one’s craft. Outside of that, “experience” is merely the last refuge of the mid-career bureaucrat with nothing else to show for his life’s work.

    Good article and topic. Cheers. :)

    • Anonymous

      I have to disagree with you on this one.
      Experience matters a great deal. That’s the only thing that matters,
      the rest is books marts and opinion. What gets these people in trouble
      is using experience as a sense of entitlement… And then not growing
      and changing with the times.Thanks for coming by and giving us your thoughts!

    • http://dannybrown.me Danny Brown

      Holy shit, Blanchard, if these are quick thoughts, remind me not to read in-depth ones… 😉

      • http://twitter.com/skypulsemedia Howie at Sky Pulse Media

        I think there is a bit of a misnomer here on experience and I agree with @geofflivingston:disqus on this. Your point on the Executive proves Geoff is right. They are experts at being mediocre. The people who judge these executives talent and performance are experts at being bad at judging.

        Great example is a guy who destroyed two companies almost permanently and walked away with hundreds of millions. Mr. Nardelli of Home Depot and Chrysler Failure. Guy should be in jail or hung from a tree by his employees yet he has about $300million for being an expert at destroying companies.

        But your point 1 is excellent. Point 2 I agree with how many executives are experts at sucking at what they do.

    • http://thesocialjoint.com/ Lucretia M Pruitt

      Dude, experience and expertise are two different things.

      But I love your “quick thoughts.”

  • http://twitter.com/swoodruff Steve Woodruff

    Let’s hope to remain evolving explorers continuously gaining some levels of expertise. Not sure there’s any destination beyond that…!

    • Anonymous

      Indeed. It will be interesting to see which ones of us are still around in 10 years. Keep exploring!

  • Karen Pilling

    Thank you for this. This meme has infected the local discourse in conferences in my area. It baffles me. In every other profession, there are people with more experiences, people who have honed their skills and developed strategies, people who grow by staying on top of evolving trends, people who implement their skills in business, people who learn from past failures, whatever you want to call them. Aren’t those the ones you want to hire?

    • Anonymous

      The eating our own trend in this sector — one that has been going on for four years now — is something established communicators propagate. It’s one I have used myself in the 2008-9 era. I now see that as putting myself on  a pedestal, a dangerous egotistical position.

      I’m currently reading Chuck Martin’s Third Screen, on mobile. And it is showing me exactly how little I know about something I  thought I had a good deal of domain knowledge on.  Digital media continues to move at light speed.  None of us can afford to become comfortable.

      Thanks for a great comment, Karen.

  • Anonymous

    Hello Geoff, I actually thought that the articles were more accurate than not, although the approach may have been unbecoming. Everyone and their brother is on the bandwagon, and most will likely emplode. Oliver brings up a an excellent point surrounding “experience for experience sake” 

    We use the word “practicing” around our shop a lot, and try to not get stuck on labels, but rather focus in doing something cooler today than we were able to dream up yesterday, and avoid the nonsense. The problem occurs when your crazy idea isn’t in alignment with peers, or like businesses, and so on. Criticism begins to freely fly, because at the end of the day many, many folks just aren’t comfortable that the world has changed. 

    • Anonymous

      Mmm, not sure I agree with you on experience for experience’s sake. Experience is the only relevant background you can bring to the table. The rest is book smarts, hear say and opinion. Haven’t we had enough of people parroting what they heard and calling themselves experts?

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Beth-Kanter/504747699 Beth Kanter

        I’ve thought this for over a decade – you are only as smart as your
        network.  And given the exponential increase in access to information
        and limitations of cranial containment (there’s only so much one human
        brain can hold), the new expertise is creating a high quality network
        and seeing trends and patterns.    It is no longer about just about knowing the content – it’s knowing who else knows, real-time experience, and sense-making.

        • Anonymous

          Hmm, but can a network deliver savoir faire in a real situation?  Maybe, maybe not. Feels more like the 21st century of book smarts. I’m more likely to rely on experience.

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  • http://www.reefbuilders.com Brian Blank

    I think you are right to get the discussion going. I think there are many people with great experiences that are doing great things. I think in “social” and “digita’ at times we can’t always apply the same template and expect similar results. In communications, there are many intangibles that make our jobs difficult and challenging at best so you need a great team to be successful. In my opinion the difference between great communications pros and some experts is who is shouting louder from their own pedestals. Don’t get me wrong, there are incredible conversations started by lots of folks online but many are one dimensional.

    • Anonymous

      I agree, and we’ve hired some well regarded voices and have had mixed results. In the end, you can only go so far with sounds as opposed to having the chops to do the work.  Talking about content doesn’t make you a great writer per say. Writing day in, day out, year in, year out does make a great writer. Good points here.

  • http://markharai.com Mark Harai

    I think this blog post kicks ass and it’s spot on in it’s message. 

    All we have is our experiences – that’s it! 

    Experience (having actually been there done that) is the only thing you can build on in life. Everything is BS and hot air. You can’t build a future or a business pretending to being something you’re not. 

    You’ll always be found out if you’re full of shit because what you’ve experienced is all you can actually deliver at the end of the day. For many social media “experts,” that’s not much – LOL!

    The only thing that will enable to actually deliver more value in any capacity is actually gaining more first hand experience. That’s really the only value anyone has to offer.

    • Anonymous

      Yes, and given the pace of change, we have no choice but to continue gaining first hand experience…  Otherwise we lose the edge.  It’s a dog eat dog world!

  • Eric Reasons

    Those of us in social media should be more aware of this than anybody.

    “Bridging the Gap: Authority, 150 connections, and the Power Law”

    http://blog.ericreasons.com/2011/06/bridging-gap-authority-150-connections.html

  • Gabriel Zenone

    Expertise allows one to be good at the wheel.
    Experience allows one to be good in bed.
    The world requires both.
    And both require ‘sprezzatura’.

  • http://dannybrown.me Danny Brown

    Great conversation starter, mate. The way I look at it – we all have various levels of expertise at different things. I might be awesome at creative ideas but shit at implementation.

    So should I be called an expert..? To me, no. But then I like being out of the loop. 😉

    • http://spinsucks.com Gini Dietrich

      And you are wicked awesome at creative ideas.

      • http://dannybrown.me Danny Brown

        Gini, Gini, Gini – my retainer is up for June 😉

        (hugs)

      • http://twitter.com/skypulsemedia Howie at Sky Pulse Media

        @ginidietrich:disqus  you forget @dannybrown:disqus mediates under Bonzai Trees each morning. 8)

    • Anonymous

      For me, it all gets back to hunger. The moment you think you’ve arrived… To being out of the loop!

  • http://thesocialjoint.com/ Lucretia M Pruitt

    I think perhaps my favorite part of reading your posts is that I usually experience at least one “Yes! Exactly!” moment and one “No… wait a minute…” moment. Which is not my norm.  You make me think Geoff – I love that.  Even when I don’t comment.

    I have to say that I want someone with experience – but I also one someone who is innovative and doesn’t do things a certain way just because it has “always been done that way.” I don’t care if we say we have “experts” (self-anointed or otherwise) in this industry. I care that there are people who are con artists more than willing to take clients’ money under the pretense that they have expertise they do not have.

    I hate that we’re reduced to arguing over a label rather than pointing out that titles are pointless. $100 and articles of incorporation and I’m a CEO – but that doesn’t mean I’m qualified to run a company, just that I have a title. $14.99 and a business card template and I’m a Social Media Expert – but it has as much relevance as the CEO title I just mentioned.

    In my rambling way, I’m saying “I agree – it’s not about the title.” But I’m also saying that experience alone doesn’t make someone worth hiring. We have to add in success. That’s why I’m happier with the word “expertise.” It implies both experience and success.  Maybe a little hint of ‘innovative’ too.

    But you know, I hate it when someone calls me an expert in anything.  Mostly because that makes it harder for me to under-promise and over-deliver, if I’m being honest.

    I’d put you on a list of “experts” if someone asked me for a list, Geoff. But I wouldn’t do you the disservice of labeling you that if someone asked me what you do.  You are far more than and expert, you are an innovator.

    [/rambly unstructured comment]

  • http://anyessays.com/ Essay writer

    Great post, I enjoyed ready reading it, Keep posting good stuff like this.

  • http://www.flashfree.wordpress.com Liz S

    I believe that this is a perfect way to frame this argument, and a perfect way to garner discussion about it. Until the dust settles a bit, there will be experts and gurus and bears (oh my) and minions who aspire to be like them. And then there will be those on the fringes doing the actual work, forging new pathways and creating new paradigms. Rather than frame it the way that Olivier has, i.e., stagnation and mediocrity miring the world of the experienced, I’d rather characterize it as “do and do nots;” this mirrors the world outside the fishbowl. 

    • Anonymous

      It’s funny that you say that, Liz.  I got a private message from a Fortune 500 PR Marketing Lead.  He said he thought the same thing, that the Gary Vee/Shankman/echo chamber conversation was way off, and that big cos could smell these guys out. 

      Whenever there is direct attack positioning like that, people are left to wonder why.  What’s the motive?  When there is no real substance to the attack other than poo pooing it becomes evident that there’s a smokescreen at play…

  • http://www.parmet.net/pr David Parmet

    About a year ago I moved myself out to the periphery for a whole host of reasons – not the least of which was that the need to make a living was outweighing the need to speak at cool conferences on my own dime. 

    I’m very happy now, thank you very much, avoiding this circular firing squad. 

    Geoff, as always you are right on the mark on this point. Just do the work and the rest will follow. 

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    thanks for the post) very interesting) like when there are cool photos)

  • http://twitter.com/skypulsemedia Howie at Sky Pulse Media

    Poor Holtz I just had to nuke his blog post. I went with the Hydrogen Bomb since I didn’t want to destroy everything. No worries I didn’t tell him who sent me.

    You are correct Geoff experience is the key and nothing is cookie cutter. Just because one thing worked in a certain situation doesn’t mean it will elsewhere and failure is a huge advantage to ‘knowing’. How often do we tell someone ‘It won’t work because it didn’t work for me’ ? and turn out right?

    In fact this Digital Advertising weird mission where they keep saying ‘One day we will find a way to make digital so compelling people will click and participate and buy’ is utter nonsense with IAds being the last flop. They never ask the people if they want ads or care about them etc. They forget for the most part we ENDURE ads because we have no choice aside from maybe checking the sales in the Sunday Paper.
    How many people see an Ad on TV then immediately go watch it on You Tube over and over? LOL It is rare anyone will do it once and often those Ads don’t sell product but only entertain us (VW Dart Vader is a great example!)

    My point being experience is key and until you DO SOMETHING you can’t be an expert. How many Social Media Gurus have built a Brand Community from Scratch? Almost none. Case rested.

  • http://thefuturebuzz.com AdamSinger

    …and this is the only experts post worth linking to. Seriously, what’s up with all the reposts?

  • r a

    Experience is a necessary but not sufficient condition for Expertise. Just because people misappropriate or misapply the label of “Expert” doesn’t mean there are no Experts.