May 7, 2013 by Liberty
When people think about making an impact in any field, they expect that impact to be made from an expert. That just isn’t as true as one might think. There is a more common occurrence that, in many cases, can look like the exact opposite. By that I mean, a seemingly odd outsider can see something that the professional cannot. Someone comes out of nowhere and changes the world in an instant. It’s not always that dramatic but the difference can be made by someone that lacks the formal knowledge. At that point, of course, the person with no practical knowledge will be hailed an expert in the field. That makes this occurrence camouflage into everyday life.
This doesn’t happen everyday but it’s an amazing situation worth noting. In fact, it’s a very rare occurrence that stems from the advantage of the outsider. The really surprising part about this situation is, by it’s very nature, it’s more likely to be a dramatic change.
Not Too Different
As a writer, there is one thing that I’ve mastered in my career. I know how to write about any subject effectively for the masses. I could write an article about internet marketing one minute and quickly move onto an article about a breakthrough in particle physics. I know very little about internet marketing and I know even less about particle physics but writing about them does not require more than a little research. If you get a professional editor in their then it might even be quality.
That might sound a bit insane but the fact is: Everything in life is similar.
To write a great article for average people, you just need to know some basic facts and what something is similar to. A simple example of this might be this:
A baseball writer gets recruited to write an article on basketball playoffs. Even if the baseball writer knows nothing about basketball, he or she can write thousands and thousands of words about the excitement of playoffs. When they throw three or four basketball references in there, no average person will notice the difference.
Notice how I say average: A writer couldn’t suddenly write (without any research) the greatest research paper ever on something that would get the experts buzzing but they can certainly get the average person curious.
All things are not too different from one another. With a little bit of research, the difference can be virtually nothing.
The Problems with Expertise
Experts face a number of challenges that outsiders don’t face. While it’s usually better to be an expert, it comes with a number of burdens that usually get ignored by others.
The first problem with expertise is the seeing the differences. While the outsider needs to spend most of his or her time comparing things, the expert needs to spend most of his or her time distinguishing the difference between things. An expert needs to dig deeper and deeper. Many of the basic facts on the subject become instinctual.
The second problem that experts face is tunnel vision. Experts in a subject usually need to focus their studies. It’s hard to get funding for an experiment that has a million potential strategies. Experts need to focus and have goals. This means they can make more smaller discoveries. It also means they’re less able to make major, history altering discoveries.
The last problem I’m going to mention is incestuous quality of any career. Experts have conferences about their field. Those experts often just ingrain old ideas deeper and deeper into the technology they have. New ideas are tough to breakthrough with. Crushing old ideas is even harder to make reasonable. Many professionals fear losing their career if they say something the slightest bit controversial.
With these challenges in mind, experts are bound to not make all the great discoveries.
An outsider does not have preconceived notions about a field. The outsider can look at the world like a child does. Curiosity and comparisons allow them the ability to see things that haven’t been seen before.
If you’ve every talked to children for a while then you’ve probably seen this. You might say you want to watch “Reservoir Dogs” and the child will start pulling the dogs collar toward you. The child isn’t quite connecting with the point. Often, we laugh it off and say that it’s the child’s ignorance. It’s actually the exact opposite. It’s the child using it’s intelligence to make distinctions. (Recognizes words “I want to watch dogs.” and not knowing movie titles.)
Outsiders also have the clueless-to-certain-things advantage. Outsiders are in no way ingrained to certain beliefs. They have the ability to see things without the biases.
What Does All This Mean?
Does that mean you should quit medical school and become a healer with your outsider knowledge?
Maybe if you want to but I’d probably bet against it. Experts are still more important than non-experts. Expertise can do great things for a field. It can increase the depth dramatically. I made this article to suggest two simple points. First, don’t be scared to put yourself into positions of cluelessness. These are the times that you get the best out of yourself. These are the times that can make a bigger difference than you think. (They’re also pretty unattractive because you’ll probably look like a fool. That being said, there are a lot bigger problems in life than looking like a fool.)
The second point is important for all the experts reading this. Experts are essential but so are non-experts. The people that apparently don’t know what they’re doing are making an impact on the field as a whole. When we take away millions of experiments and people pushing the boundaries we’re left with virtually no impact. Remember that most of those experiments produce nothing of value except clarification of what doesn’t work. Even people that are misguided are making a positive impact. At the very least, they’re making a great cautionary tale.
Remember, nothing is too complicated for anyone to help (including you.)