Stop using terms like Expert


stop-using-terms-like-expertHe was riding a four-wheeler.

You know, the kind of motorcycle that stays low to the ground and is fun to ride in wide open spaces. He had a friend whose family owned them and took them out to ride, and so they invited him one day.

At some point you could tell that he was enjoying himself – moving a bit faster, enjoying the wind blowing on his face and goggles – as he drove around like the kid he was, in delight.

Until he tipped the quad-runner over, on himself, and broke his ankle.

He came out of it ok, and it could have been worse, but at his young age, breaking an ankle seemed horrible. And when his family took him to the doctors they discovered it was worse than they'd initially imagined.

He'd broken his ankle at the growth plate.

Now I'm no scientist, but the key word in that phrase seems to be “growth” – and the doctors were worried that this broken growth plate would limit growth, while his other ankle may continue to grow. That would leave him with years of medical challenges and at best, two different legs with two different lengths.

That would mean custom pants. Custom shoes. A potential challenge to walking, and a bigger issue when it came to sports. And his language of love was sports. He loved soccer. Even when everyone else was watching the Rose Bowl, years before, he'd been out playing soccer (and fallen over and broken an arm).

Soccer was his thing, and he was good at it.

Second Opinions and Experts

At that point, his parents did what any other folks would do – they asked for a second opinion. Luckily for them, their local doctor knew of a world-renowned specialist who wasn't too far away, at UCLA. And so for a few weeks, all they did was hope and pray that they could get an appointment.

And eventually they did. And so there we sat. In the doctor's office. Waiting for the expert to join us and to tell us if my brother would be ok.

The guy walked in and opened up the envelope of x-rays, pulling out one from years before, and asked my brother how his arm was doing. Are you serious?

My mom couldn't help herself. She was tired, frustrated, and calculating how many hours she'd have to work just to pay for this stupid appointment with an expert that didn't even know why we were there!

But he quickly recovered and went to check on my brother's leg (after being informed we were there for the current incident, not the old one). Only, he checked the wrong leg. Are you serious?

This time it was my dad who corrected him. And at that point I knew this appointment was done. If dad had lost faith in you, it wasn't going to be a happy appointment.

The advice we never followed.

The expert suggested we cut my brother's good leg—yes, the good one—to make sure that the other leg didn't grow further at the ankle. This, he suggested, would keep both my brother's legs even.

All my dad heard was that the guy who misread x-rays and didn't know his left from his right was now telling us to injure, on purpose, a good leg. So we walked out—and never followed any of the advice.

And thank goodness we didn't—because my brother's legs had ended their growth spurts and he never had an issue—all the while playing soccer and running in cross country and track.

The Problem with terms like Expert and Guru

I love authority as much as the next guy. I love influence and it's always easier to leverage it from a position of authority than any other. But here's what happens when we use terms like expert and guru. We set the bar so high so that we can't make normal, human mistakes.

Was the specialist actually a moron? No. But his reputation had been so seriously elevated that a simple mistake—like grabbing the first x-ray out of an envelope—immediately made us question everything he had to say.

So instead of calling yourself an expert in anything, just focus on highlighting your applicable experience. Help others see how you might be able to help them, given your background.

And whatever you do, try to keep the expectations reasonable. Sure there may be things you can do, but you can't do everything. So stay clear from terms that potentially suggest you can.

Oh, and be careful on those quad-runners—that ride can be a doozy.

PS. If you're wondering how to tell if a WordPress person is an “expert” or not, check out these warning signs from my friend Bob.