Why Being An Expert Can Be Dangerous For Your Mind

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Saturday, 8.01pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Improve yourself: that is the only thing you can do to improve the world. Ludwig Wittgenstein

What should you do when you feel like you are an expert at something?

Probably be afraid.

I haven’t written for a week or so and after every such break I wonder if I can still come up with anything that makes sense.

Writers are plagued with such feelings.

Nothing you have done can guarantee the quality of anything that you will do in the future.

It’s like a having a trading strategy. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Just because value investing worked for Benjamin Graham, that doesn’t mean it would have worked for Warren Buffet.

As, in fact, it didn’t. Buffett and Munger made the first few hundred million buying overlooked companies on the cheap but their billions came from buying great businesses at fair prices.

Buffett’s ability to pick stocks is unlikely to help us today where we are probably better off putting most of our money in a cheap tracker and getting on with the day job.

But – the day job is also changing. There isn’t much room for people who talk about value instead of creating value any more.

What does that mean?

Well, we know that any business has two key functions: marketing and innovation.

Marketing, however, is more than just talking about what you do. It’s about showing that you understand what someone else needs.

Innovation, then, is about being able to fill that need.

Any person in a role is probably judged on those two functions as well, even if they don’t know it.

After all, you’re hired for what you say you can do and are kept because you do it well and get better over time.

If you don’t then there is a list somewhere with your name on it.

But then, where does value come from? Is it expertise you’ve built over time? The systems and processes you have? The investment in your infrastructure?

These days I cringe when someone says that their unique selling point is the capability of their people.

How do you measure that? How can you tell if your graduates are smarter than graduates in another company? Or for that matter, your engineers or MBAs or lawyers?

Any person or firm that thinks that they are at the top of their game or their league or their sector is in a dangerous position.

As they toast themselves someone, somewhere, is working to destroy their business. Someone who probably doesn’t even know they exist.

It’s like the old story of the learned person who went to a monk to learn Zen.

He talked of all the things he knew and went on and on.

The monk served tea, filled the visitor’s cup and went on filling.

Stop, said the visitor, it’s full, no more will go in.

That is like your mind, said the monk. Unless you first empty it how can you fill it with fresh thoughts?

When you go on a sales visit how can you learn what the prospect wants if you talk about yourself all the time?

Or, if you fill your days doing work the same way you have always done?

Or if you never try and learn a new approach, a new language or someone else’s method?

You are probably busy. But you’re probably not very happy.

Uncertainty, it seems to me, is a good thing.

It says that you’re still ready to learn and improve. To try and get better.

To enjoy different types of tea.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

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