Never Trust an Expert

April 16, 2007  

A couple of nights ago, I gave a presentation to a group of eager individuals who are either launching or advancing their speaking careers. During our 90 minute discussion, I gave dozens of tips and techniques for growing their business.

At the end of the evening, one attendee asked, “What is the MOST important tip?” I thought about this for a minute and replied, “I don’t know.”

Although this answer may seem like a cop out, it is in fact the truth. No one REALLY knows what made them successful. More importantly, they have no idea how others can replicate their success. They may be able to look at a series of events that led to a particular outcome. But most likely the “most important tip” is something completely different than what is seen on the surface.

Last year I attended a “book marketing” conference led by a well known author who has sold millions (and millions) of books. His promise was to provide steps and tools that made him successful so that others can also reap the rewards. Thousands of people have tried his formula over the years and as far as I can tell, none have come even close to his level of success. Those that achieved some level of success did so by riding on the coat-tails of this author, leveraging his name and network.

I am not implying that these experts are misleading or malicious. Not at all. The issue lies in our inability to find the correct correlations between cause and effect. Too many hidden factors play a major role – ones that we might never consider or notice. Most experts use anecdotal evidence to support their conclusions. “It worked for me and a few of my buddies, so it should work for you.” This is faulty reasoning. Maybe the expert’s “10 Steps to Financial Wealth” were not the true causes of their success.

There are many, harder to measure factors that often play a substantial role. Your attitude plays a larger part than you might think. Your Rolodex of contacts can be a huge part of the equation. Being in the right place at the right time has launched many businesses, including Microsoft. Or sometimes plain old dumb luck is the real cause. Fortunately, in the case of luck, people can create their own luck. Studies show that those who are less goal-oriented are luckier than “goalaholics” because they are open to possibilities outside of their narrow goal-focus.

So the next time someone makes a suggestion – or someone tries to sell you their 5 steps to success – be skeptical. Although it may be great advice, it may also be (unintentionally) misinformed counsel. They may not know the REAL cause of their success. Then again, this blog entry is my advice to you – so it too should be taken with a grain of salt.

P.S. Notice this entry is entitled, “Never TRUST an Expert” and not ‘Never LISTEN to an Expert.”

Leave a Reply

Old Comments

4 Responses to “Never Trust an Expert”

  1. David Zinger on April 18th, 2007 1:02 pm


    I was reading your post when one of the things that really stood out for me was the honesty and integrity that is embedded in goal free living.

    How often are we willing to say, “I don’t know.”

    How often are we willing to say, “this is my way but what is your way?”

    I catch strands of eastern thought in your approach: As the Buddha was dying, Ananda asked who would be their teacher after death. The Buddha replied to his disciple… “Be lamps unto yourselves…”

    Thanks for shedding light on honest methods in living.

    David Zinger

  2. Steve Roesler on April 18th, 2007 3:27 pm

    Nice touch, Stephen. For the life of me I can’t completely understand why more people don’t just say “I don’t know.”

    Perhaps the search for formulaic answers is a quest for “The” checklist of success in a given area. I’ve read little that didn’t have some worthwhile, underlying principle. But the value lies in how we personally figure out how to apply a variation of it to our personal situations.

    Keep writing…

  3. Gareth Garvey on April 23rd, 2007 12:50 pm

    Your post reminded me of the time, many years -ago when I first became a (junior) management consultant. One of the biggest problems with new consultants is that they believe their employer has employed them as an expert and also believe experts always have the answer. I was no exception but fortunately learned the lesson early before I did any damage to a client. The mark of a real expert is that they are able and willing to say ‘I don’t know’. The sort of ‘expert’ who is not able to say ‘I don’t know’ is also teh sort that talks all the time and does not listen. I could add the advice – never listen to an expert who does not listen.

  4. Stephen Shapiro on April 24th, 2007 8:55 am

    Thanks for the comments.

    It’s interesting that my “I don’t know” comment struck a chord. I love what you said, Gareth, “Never listen to an expert who does not listen.” If that were the case, I wonder how many experts would be left to listen to.

    For me, every interaction with a client (or individual) is an opportunity for personal and professional growth. David, as you point out, we all have opinion, but they are just that – opinions. And I am completely open to changing mine.