Expertise

One thing which has been bothering me of late, is how we have lost a culture of building experts. And I mean experts like Michaelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci or Isaac Newton or Mozart – people who dedicated their lives to their professions. We dont build such people anymore. If we take a look around, all we see is a bunch of salesmen in suits posing as experts.

How did this happen? Previously it was a way of life. A man’s life was defined by his profession and he took ownership in the work. Expertise carried a mark of respect and exclusivity. It became a purpose of living – something you could dedicate your life to.  But now, its just not the same environment anymore. Work has been sliced to such a fantastic degree that you just dont feel proud of it.

I remember reading about an IIM interview when I was preparing for CAT. The professor was questioning the candidate on ways to improve efficiency in a manufacturing plant. The candidate mumbled some words on ‘motivation’ upon which the professor laughed and said, “You have a guy whose only job is to turn the lever on and off. Now do tell me how you intend to ‘motivate’ THIS guy about his work”. And that’s how it is.  One advantage of graduating from an IIM is that you can get good work. You can get work that you feel excited about. That’s not always the case with engineering. Lots of engineers in India get jobs in back offices and support centres where its very difficult to feel excited about the work. Sure you can earn decent money, but that’s about it. Its certainly not the best way to breed experts.

One friend gave a very interesting opinion on this. She said that earlier, bankers and merchants were heavy patrons of art. Charging interest (or its excessive variant ‘usury’) was considered sinful, so behemoths like Medici patronized fine arts and sponsored talented artists, to atone for their guilt. And because charging interest is not considered immoral anymore, the extent of patronization by wealthy has gone down. Hence, the lack of expertise. Its an interesting opinion and might be a contrbuting factor but I think thats not the only reason. I think part of the reason is the spread of social media and the culture of consumerism. You cant be an expert if you spend hours on facebook and twitter.

So thats how it is I suppose. We have lost touch with genuine expertise to such an extent that we abuse such words on the drop of a hat. In the TV series ‘Prison Break’, Michael Scofield’s psychiatrist explains that Scofield’s high IQ combined with a medical condition of low latent inhibition (disability to block out peripheral information or an excessive attention to detail) makes him a creative genius. The explanation is very mathematical, unlike (as the psychiatrist remarks) the way we generally abuse the word “genuis” in context of those who are merely above average. The sad part is, our education system, our culture has reduced the encouragement and even production of true genuis and genuine experts.

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