How Young People Can “Democratize Expertise”

In times of uncertainty we look to experts–usually those with a certain level of education and experience–to guide us and reassure us. However, as Noreena Hertz points out in her TED talk our reliance on experts often leads to hero worship and blind following, and, most importantly, the inability for us to recognize our own expertise and the expertise of people who dont have a special title:

This is not to say that there is no place for experts in our conversations. There is value in having a focus on a particular area and being able to share that knowledge in a useful way. What Hertz shares that I think is incredibly useful is our reliance on experts without being critical and ignoring the expertise that we already have.  According to Hertz, we need to democratize expertise instead of believing it can be obtained by a privileged few.

Social media has definitely made it easier to democratize expertise in that we can now research, challenge, connect, and become experts given the volume of information and people that are accessible.  However, I think  we still tend to ignore how in the pursuit of becoming an expert we may limit our ability to acknowledge and support varying types of expertise by not challenging ourselves, by limiting our connection with people who are different from us, and by not engaging in what it means to be an expert in the first place.

So as young people are encouraged to brand themselves as experts, how can we be sure not to fall into the same habits that make expertise so inaccessible?

1. Actively encourage and participate in “spaces of dissent”: A powerful phrase and approach by Hertz, we have to ask ourselves: Are we being sure to expose ourselves to ideas that are different from ours? We’ve been celebrated at the most diverse generation–how does this translate into active engagement with the diversity that exists?  Being able to support differing views instead of ignoring them not only makes you smarter but it also allows genuine conversation to flourish.

2. Acknowledge and support different forms of leadership: A few weeks ago Rosetta Thurman wrote about you dont need a college degree (or any fancy credential) to lead or make a difference.  However, you wouldn’t know that based on our selection of leaders. In redefining leadership we expand our definition of expertise; we realize that people are experts and leaders in various ways beyond a certain credential. So rather than focusing on the credential you lack, develop and strengthen the skills that you have that allow you to contribute to your cause or field in a useful way.

3. Admit when mistakes and ask for correction: Part of making expertise accessible and rooted in reality is the admission of when mistakes are made. Being humble and asking for support goes a long way in demonstrating trust in other people’s ideas and recognizing the limitations of your own work.

What do you think? Do we need to rethink how we define and engage experts?