Do you want to learn something new? Science Says: Stop Asking Experts For Advice (Just With One Little Twist)

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I’ve devoted an entire chapter of The Motivation Myth to the idea that you should talk to a professional, not a coach, if you need help creating a routine to achieve a goal. (Teachers are great, but if you want to start a business, a successful entrepreneur has lived the steps.)

Advantages? They know what to do.

But what if you want to learn something?

Then it might not be the best idea to call in an expert. According to a study just published in Psychological Science, top performers generally don’t give better advice than average performers.

In part, that’s because research also shows that experts generally possess skills so advanced that their advice is beyond the comprehension of a non-expert. (And sometimes, especially when it comes to a physical skill, experts can’t necessarily explain the effort, exercise, and muscle memory that allow them to do it.)

Take my NASCAR driver, friend Ross Chastain. Ross and I rode go-karts together. I drove a race car with Ross at Road Atlanta. He gave me driving tips. They’re great… but honestly outside of me too.

Not only does he operate at a level I can’t relate to, his years of racing experience has resulted in skills so intuitive that they defy self-analysis at least in part. Like doctors whose experience allows them to make surprisingly accurate quick assessments, what seem intuitive decisions are in fact the product of years of experience and thousands of hours of practice.

As the authors of a 2005 study write:

Contrary to what knowledge engineers claim, we argue that expertise in general… cannot be captured in rules-based expert systems, as expertise is based on making instantaneous, non-reflective situational responses; intuitive judgment is the hallmark of expertise.

Oddly enough, this means that experts probably aren’t the best teachers, because their expertise makes it nearly impossible for them to explain — to people like me, and maybe you — what they’re doing.

Here’s a fun example of that finding in action (h/t to Wharton Professor Ethan Mollick

That’s all a problem, and not just because research shows that we tend to think that experts are always the best teachers: we also think that the people who give the most advice are experts.

As the researchers write:

While the advice of the top-performing advisors was not more favorable than the advice of other advisors, the participants believed it — and they believed this despite being told nothing about the performance of their advisors. Why?

The top performers didn’t give better advice, but they did give more of it, and participants apparently mistook quantity for quality (emphasis added.)

These studies suggest that acting and advising are often unrelated skills and that people in at least some domains may overestimate advice from top performers.

In short, we don’t just assume that top performers give better advice, we also assume that people who give a lot of advice must be experts: that quantity somehow equals quantity.

if Professor Mollick writes:“The nature of being an expert makes it difficult to communicate your expertise clearly to others. Experts combine so much complex intuition and experience in decisions that it is difficult to share it.”

So what should you do with all this?

If you need to learn what to do — if you need a process or routine — as an expert. (Ask a pro.) Let’s say you want to run a marathon; someone who has actually run a few marathons can give you a practical, realistic, basically guaranteed-as long as-you-follow training program.

If you need to learn something – for example, if you want to learn to run with optimally efficient biomechanics – ask a knowledgeable teacher.

Finally, if you have access to an expert, take the opportunity — but keep your questions simple.

While I was on a go-kart track with Ross, I asked him for a tip. He told me to go all the way through the S-turns. “Go in wide,” he said, “tap the inside corner of the first turn, then tap the wall just before the narrowest point of the next. That’s the line you want to take. The back can be a little on the exit the last corner and you can kiss the wall, but that’s okay.”

And it was – and it was advice that I could digest and put into practice.

While experts have so much experience and such an intuitive intuition that it’s basically impossible to share how they know what they know…if you ask the right questions, you may be able to learn to do one or two things like they do.

That’s all you can — and according to research, should — ask.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not Inc.com’s.


This post Do you want to learn something new? Science Says: Stop Asking Experts For Advice (Just With One Little Twist) was original published at “https://www.inc.com/jeff-haden/want-to-learn-something-new-science-says-quit-asking-experts-for-advice-but-with-one-small-twist.html”

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