About week ago, I was going over some of the most viewed TEDx talks on YouTube. This is what I usually do when the muse doesn’t pay me a visit – which happens quite often – and I need a shot of inspiration to get me through the day’s writing chores.
The array of TEDx speakers were very impressive. In less than 20 minutes, they could inspire their audiences and move them to action – plant a tree, read a book, learn to play the ukulele, study quantum physics. Heck, they could even convince you to abandon your high-paying job, unload all your stock and start a foundation to save the whales.
And what made them effective aside from being gifted speakers? They were all experts in their particular fields. They were either musicians, educators, professors, engineers and fund raisers. People listened to them because they were “authorities” and knew how to walk their talk.
So I thought, if I would have a chance to speak in front of a TEDx event, what would I say?
Below, is that talk, which I have delivered not in a full-packed auditorium, but in the confines of our living room with our five cats and my one-year old daughter as my audience.
The joys of being a non-expert
First things first: I am not an expert.
Surprised? Honestly, I’m surprised myself.
But here I am. I can see some of you smiling. Others are nodding their heads and perhaps preparing themselves for another mind-numbing presentation.
And most of you might be wondering:
What the hell is that guy doing up there?
As I’ve told you beforehand, I’m not an expert. In fact, I think that I’m the only non-expert here in this room.
I understand that this event is a gathering of development workers. That means all of you are experts in your own fields. Some of you might be school teachers, accountants, government workers, urban planners, etc.
So, what is a non-expert doing in the company of experts?
Because I want to share with you the joys – and benefits – of being a non-expert.
Yes, you heard me right. This might be the most preposterous thing you’ve ever heard in your professional career. Especially if you believe you’re an expert.
And I can’t blame you.
But let us first define what an expert is.
In simple terms, an expert is someone who is very good in what he does. And he or she gets paid for his or her first-rate professional services. He is a cut above the rest and knows the ins and outs of his industry like the back of his hand.
Just like all of you who are in this room.
Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against experts. In fact, I have the highest regard for them – for all of you.
I’m a writer and photographer by profession. I have been in the business of stringing words together and taking photos for the past 15 years.
But I don’t consider myself an expert. Far from it.
Let me tell you why.
Being labeled an expert seems to put too much pressure on people. If you are called an expert, you are viewed as an authority in your respective field. In short, you have to be a professional in every way possible – and infallible
Herein lies the danger.
As experts, there is a tendency to be tied to the boundaries of one’s profession. He easily disagrees with those who don’t conform to his own high standards and guidelines. And everything that he does is aimed at getting to the next level and becoming the head of the pack.
If this is the case, why am I even suggesting that all of us think like non-experts?
First, being a non-expert frees your mind. This means you are not confined to your “expert opinion.” You become a “free thinker” and will be able to better appreciate the ideas of others.
Some experts I know of brush aside the arguments or suggestions of others because they always think they know better. They have set up an impregnable fortress around them so they can marvel at their amazing concepts and keep “lesser” thinkers at bay.
I had a colleague who felt that she was God’s gift to journalism. There was no doubt that she was an excellent writer and editor. But the problem was, she didn’t care to listen to the opinion of others.
Whenever a member of the team made a proposal, she immediately shot it down. As a result, people were afraid to air their recommendations. What should have been a free-flowing meeting often turned into a class lecture.
Non-experts do not erect such barriers to meaningful exchange. They allow the free flow of thoughts. Most of all, they are not afraid to recognize the ideas of others and give credit when it is due.
Second, non-experts are not afraid to innovate. They are willing to challenge long-standing theories and explore other alternative avenues of learning. They do not take things at face value and are highly critical of “assembly-line” ideas.
This openness of thinking provides non-experts greater room for creativity. Because they are not bound by the stringent parameters set by the mindset of so-called experts, they are able to come up with groundbreaking concepts which they doggedly pursue until they become a reality.
And third, being a non-expert allows you to become a better learner. Remember the time when we were in grade school where learning was so much fun? Those were the times when our minds were like sponges which soaked in everything that was fed to it.
But as we progressed to secondary school and college, learning became more tedious and complicated. In fact, it became a dreaded chore which we avoided with a ten-foot pole. We had to memorize a ton of concepts which we would find out later on, didn’t have practical applications in the real world.
We now view learning as a cumbersome process because of the negative mindset we have developed towards it over the years. We have learned to dislike learning because we have taken the joy out of it.
We are forced to learn because we need to, not because we want to. We are driven by the thought that with this accumulation of knowledge, we would eventually become experts, the best in our line of work.
In today’s highly competitive environment, knowing the latest marketing, scientific and socio-economic trends is integral to our line of work. This is especially true for those whose jobs thrive on the amount and quality of information they have at their fingertips.
Like stock brokers, financial analysts, PR strategists and software developers, to name a few.
However, knowing everything is not the “be all, end all” of our existence.
In the first place, we are not sentient beings. We are neither super computers.
First and foremost, we are humans.
Because in the end, we are not only measured by how much we know or how good we are in our chosen field. What matters most is how we use the modest, even limited knowledge that we have in order to make a difference in the lives of the people around us.
And we don’t have to be experts to do this.
Have a great day. My 20 minutes are up.