The So Called Experts… Aren’t

The world – or at least the media – is awash in experts. They are right there on your favorite news channel slipped in between the talking heads. The media loves experts, and they want you to love them too.

It can be tempting to have absolute trust in what they say. We see a man or woman being grilled with questions on a mysterious topic, and watch in amazement as they break the complex down to the simple and do so with ease and absolute confidence. How could they possibly be wrong?

Actually, they can. Media supplied expert advice is free, and as we all know, you get what you pay for! Be careful in accepting the advice of any expert.

Expert Worship vs. Expert Reality

Did you have a hero when you were a kid? Some of us have them as adults. Some adults think that experts are heroes. You might have one or more friends or coworkers who will inject something to the effect of “Ed the Expert said..” in response to nearly any question or subject of any substance.

That’s expert worship. But no matter how big the halo is that we put over any expert, we have to face a few facts about them that are practically self-evident:

They’re usually not independent. The vast majority of experts – especially if they are popular in the mainstream media – are part of a business or industry, and their opinions and pronouncements are usually friendly to that fraternity. They may also be selling something – such as representing a product or service, or even selling their own advice.

The designated expert is often the best salesman in the flock. The people who emerge as top experts are not always the most knowledgeable. Very often, the top experts are the best salesman – they have a salesman’s way of making their point forcefully and convincingly. Still others reach the status because they have the best connections. But sales ability and connections don’t necessarily make for valid advice.

When an expert becomes a celebrity. It’s often said of athletes that none of them ever improve their performance after signing a fat contract. The situation is similar with experts. Once they reach celebrity status, their price goes up and performance goes down. Soon enough their opinions become more important for who said it, than for the validity of the information – after all, it MUST be true because a recognized expert said it.

Like you and me, they’re human. Experts aren’t special super humans, they’re as human as you and me. That means that they get it wrong a lot of the time. But since expert status is usually given to people who occasionally make the right pronouncement at a critical time, their advice is often considered to be downright otherworldly.

Listen to an expert opinion, think about it carefully and critically, but don’t base important decisions on it.

Experts Won’t Pay You If Their Advice Is Wrong

One of the fundamental problems with experts, especially the famous ones, is if the advice they give turns out to be wrong they will not compensate you in any way for the bad advice. This alone should give you pause to proceed on any experts opinion.

The expert does not work for you, and most likely doesn’t even know you personally. He or she has absolutely no stake in your success or failure. Never forget this.

Experts are often experts at giving opinions, first and foremost. Much of the reason why any of them achieve expert status at all is because they have a way of framing their advice in ways that always leave them with an out in case they get it wrong. As an example, the following quote applies to a popular breed of expert known as an economist, but it can apply to any expert:

“An economist is an expert who will know tomorrow why the things he predicted yesterday didn’t happen today.” – Laurence J. Peter

And though that ability to obscure bad advice may protect the expert’s reputation, it will not cover the money you lose taking their misguided advice. Proceed accordingly!

Build A Panel Of Personal Experts

Popular experts have no stake in your success, that’s a big clue. That doesn’t mean that you should eliminate experts from your life completely. You should be able find experts who can give you legitimate advice that has a reasonable chance of moving you forward. Use the following criteria:

  • Find experts close to home – they’ll be a lot more concerned about their reputation if they are.
  • Your experts should either be people who you’re paying to do the job, or those with whom you have a close relationship. That will ensure that they know your situation, and have a vested interest in giving you the right advice.
  • The expert should be someone who is working for other people who you know and trust.
  • The expert’s advice should prove to be bankable in a reasonable amount of time.
  • A substantial amount of the experts income should come from giving advice, that way he has something to lose if the advice is bad.

An expert that you work with should be ready, willing, and able to prove his worth to you, and face some sort of risk if he can’t.

Enhance Your Own Expert Ability

Even under the best of circumstances, you should never rely entirely on expert opinion. This will mean that you’ll need to develop some prior knowledge of whatever subject that you’re seeking expert advice on. If you don’t, you will have no basis of comparison to determine if the expert advice is valid or not.

This doesn’t mean you need to become an expert yourself – that would defeat the whole purpose. But you should at least have enough information that you can properly present your needs and objectives, and be able to ask intelligent questions.

Comments

  1. DIY Investor says:

    Turn on CNBC and you’ll see two really smart people with opposing views on where the market is headed. One will be right and the other will be wrong. Investors need to be careful they don’t get caught up in the last smart argument they heard. When people ask me I always say “my best guess is …”. And that’s all it is – a guess. i’ve been around long enough to understand that Mr. Market doesn’t always behave the way it should, even in seemingly obvious circumstances. The present situation is a case in point. Many predicted that the economy would fail to respond to the Fed’s historic easing. They were right. But the follow up prediction that stocks would be weak has cost many who stayed on the sidelines and now aren’t sure of what to do!

    • Kevin Mercadante says:

      I agree completely. It always amazes me that in most other fields apart from investing, we would properly label most of these people predicting the future as fortune tellers, and ignore them as charlatans. In the investment world, we pay them fat salaries and knight them as experts.

      On the point that one will be right and the other wrong, may not necessarily justify the one who is right. Everyone will be right at least some of the time, and wrong on others. There’s a large amount of luck riding on any expert opinion at any given moment.

  2. Anton Ivanov says:

    I think part of the reason why the financial and investing fields are filled with “experts” and why they command such trust from the general population is the complexity of the financial world. Many people I encounter seem to believe that it’s impossible for them to learn how to invest and manage their money and would rather resort to “professional” advice.
    This is unfortunate, because with a little education I believe everyone can manage their own finances just fine.

    • Kevin Mercadante says:

      Hi Anton–What your describing is closer to dependence, and I agree. We’re listening to experts in the hope that we won’t need to learn what we don’t want to. It’s really a lazy approach to investing, and it feeds the expert phenomenon by default.

  3. Mike Craig says:

    A lot of food for thought in this article.I’m not saying always ignore the “experts” but always and I mean always do your own due diligence. Check it out yourself. When you think your decision is sound…move forward.

    • Anton Ivanov | Dreams Cash True says:

      I would agree. Using the media or “expert” advice may be a good way to find investment leads. However, basing your investing decisions on somebody else’s advice is akin to gambling in my opinion.

  4. Mark Tailor says:

    I agree that experts are something that you need to be very careful with. Their advices may be good but if they are wrong nobody will compensate you. I think that the best way would be to listen to the experts and act as you think is right.

    • Kevin Mercadante says:

      Hi Mark–I agree, expert advice is no substitute for using your own good sense. We can start with their advice, but dig down deeper and see if it holds up to objective evidence, and to different opinions.

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