Observing an expert

How often have you heard: “I judge by results!”? Quite often, I would guess. In fact, this is exactly what I would like to hear from my manager, as the obvious alternative might be clock watching – judging by how much time someone puts in. I have often thought that, for a great many jobs, paying by the hour is quite illogical; you want to pay for what you expect to get and that is: results. A recent experience made me consider how we make such judgements …

A few weeks back, I wrote about the amount of effort required to become an expert at something. My conclusion was, for me, being “good enough” was good enough – don’t let the perfect me the enemy of the good. A question that I have been pondering since then is: How do you recognize an expert?

Of course, some people will just tell you that they are an expert and maybe have a long list of satisfied customers. Others have letters after their name, which can look impressive. But beware, “qualifications” can be misleading. I knew someone, who had a PhD in psychology, which, of course, entitled him to prefix his name with “Dr”. Later he trained to be a pediatrist, which, although a legitimate activity, hardly makes you an MD. He, however, used the salutation “Dr” on his business cards, signage etc., which was very misleading.

Often, when you encounter a real expert, you can just tell by looking at them. For example, if you hand me a very young baby, I probably will not drop it, but you would see from the way I hold it that I am nervous. I know a bit about babies: I am careful supporting their head and I know what might come out of each end. But I do not have enough experience to feel really confident. On the other hand, if you watch some baby specialists, like midwives, or very experienced mothers, they can scoop up a baby with one arm and seem totally relaxed. Incidentally, the baby is probably more relaxed too, as they have an instinctive appreciation of such expertise.

I encountered an expert just a few weeks back. I was having trouble with my guitar – 2 of the strings were rattling badly. It sounded awful. My guitar teacher said that he knew someone who could fix it. His friend Mike was an expert at “setting up” guitars. I respected my teacher’s opinion and took Mike’s number and gave him a call. I went to his house with high hopes. Mike seemed to be a very nice guy – friendly and keen to sort out my problem. He asked me what was up and I unzipped the case to show him. I awkwardly lifted the instrument out – I never quite know how to hold it, as it is very new to me – and handed it to him. As he took the guitar, it appeared to lose weight; he was holding it as if it were much lighter. He was so experienced in handling guitars that he knew exactly how to get the balance right, so it looked very natural in his hands. He very quickly made the necessary adjustments. He also spotted that the frets were slightly sharp on the ends and was very keen to smooth them off to make it more comfortable for me. He charged me a nominal amount of money and sent me on my way with the instruction that I should come back for a free-of-charge further adjustment, if it became necessary.

From the moment Mike took the guitar, I knew that he was an expert. He has no relevant qualifications – he is a retired teacher, not a musician. But the lack of letters after his name did not stop him from being an expert. And the guitar sounds great now. Or it would do if I knew what I was doing …

Comments

2 thoughts on “Observing an expert

Leave a Reply