Fighting "Expert Syndrome"

Monday, October 02, 2017

Commenting on an amusing LinkedIn post by Laura Bergells, who contrasts Impostor Syndrome with the Dunning-Kruger Effect, business writer Suzanne Lucas offers some pointers on how to spot someone suffering from what Bergells calls "Expert Syndrome":

Expert Syndrome in the wild. Image courtesy of Unsplash.
  • They have an answer for everything. A real expert knows her limits and will say so. Someone with Expert Syndrome will never admit that it is outside her realm of knowledge--often because she simply doesn't know what she doesn't know.
  • Research=Googling. Anyone whose expertise comes from doing "research" on the internet isn't a real expert. Real experts have experience in their field and read or do real primary research.
  • They don't ever need to check. If you ask an expert a complicated question, she might reply, "I think it's X, but let me double check." If you ask someone with expert syndrome a complicated question, she'll say "It's X." If you present information to the contrary, she will reject it.
  • They (almost) always claim total consensus. It is a rare thing when there is only one way to do something. Someone who insists it is black and white is likely someone with Expert Syndrome. [bold and links in original, minor edits]
I once speculated that, as Bergells and Lucas might agree, those with Impostor Syndrome might have better habits of integrating knowledge than those with Expert Syndrome. But I didn't address self-defense measures, and I don't have a good answer for the kind of question Bergells jokingly raises: How can one mitigate the ease with which so many with False Expert Syndrome seem to succeed in the work place? An insistence on justice seems to be the base of a strategy. (Don't, for example, remain long in a work place after it becomes apparent that such puffery is rewarded. Learn how and when to toot one's own horn.) Perhaps part of an answer lies in realizing that the universality of the spoils of braggadocio are only apparent: Clearly, real experts frequently do succeed, as evidenced by our daily bombardment with marvels of technological progress. Perhaps that problem, as with inappropriately selling oneself short, lies with an inadequate use of all the information at one's disposal. Perhaps Expert Syndrome is a real problem, but not as big an obstacle as its sufferers might hope it is for the rest of us.

-- CAV

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