Summary: It's hard to make informed decisions. Sometimes experts aren't your best allies. In this post I share examples of "good" experts, and a few tips for making better decisions in key areas of life.
In Part 1 I described the problem of making informed decisions. I used health & medicine as an example area which is hard to master.
In Part 2 (this article) I explore some detailed aspects of the problem, including examples of "good" experts.
Positive exception: experts who share
Internet has done much good in the area of educating people. It’s the largest educational tool ever created. There are entire websites dedicated to sharing knowledge, both facts and “how to” information. Wikipedia, discussion boards, specialized topic sites, blogs. They are a great step forward in helping people be better decision makers. Yes, there is lots of bad information out there, but the very availability of high quality information is something amazing.
Many of these sites are ran by experts who actually share useful, relevant findings. They often do it for free - on Wikipedia, on their blogs. They earn enough living through existing channels that they don’t have to worry that some people will not come to them because they learned too much.
One community I’d like to call out here is computer programmers; it’s an incredibly vocal and open community in general, with a huge "open source" movement (giving not just free advice, but free software, some of it best in class). Computer programmers also share knowledge among themselves in many ways, with some recent innovations like GitHub or StackOverflow being amazingly popular and useful to hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.
People who share their work and expertise eventually get rewarded -- they get better jobs, earn credibility in the community, make interesting relationships.
I think this is one of the great ways to become a true leader: inspire others through sharing what you did and what you learned, letting others do that or use that, too. It’s a combination of public service and commercial work, because you usually get lots of benefits when you publish useful stuff on the Internet.
Some non-fiction book authors are also this kind of "positive" experts, provided they actually know what they are talking about. People who dedicate their time to share knowledge and thus educate people are in my opinion doing a big favor to the society. They get paid a little for selling the book, and perhaps more in career opportunities that writing a book can bring.
There is of course an issue that everyone can publish a book. What I'm saying is not that "books are helpful in making informed decisions", but rather "there are some experts who dedicate their time to educate everyone through writing books".
Scientists might be another group of positive experts, provided that access to scientific papers is made free and easy - which is not the case right now. Once every scientific paper sponsored by public funding is accessible for free (something that I hope will happen during my lifetime...), I'm sure there will be people who will make it accessible and understandable for laymen, e.g. by making summaries and collections of such papers, e.g. "Science of diabetes 101".
What can you do to make better decisions?
- Develop varied network of friends and loved ones who can become your “proxy” experts.
- Be such an expert for others in your area of expertise.
- Read a few books on a given topic written by the best people in the world.
- Define a few critical areas of your life -- “Core competencies” -- which you will take responsibility for. Then slowly learn the basics of these areas, over the years becoming a bit of an expert yourself; you won’t become a doctor or a computer expert by reading a few books and a few blogs a year, but you may well be the most knowledgeable person in your street. For me the core competency areas include e.g. health, personal finance, psychology, English language. It has served me well on many occasions.