Superforecasting demands thinking that is open-minded, careful, curious, and—above all—self-critical. It also demands focus.
— Philip Tetlock & Dan Gardner, Superforecasting
The curse of knowledge means that the more you know, the harder it is to think and talk about your area of expertise in a simple way.
— Steven D’Souza & Diana Renner, Not Knowing
I was recently asked why being an expert no longer guarantees success. I am not sure I understand the question. Or, rather, I have no desire to address it in the way it is framed. Expertise is important. One of our arguments in The Neo-Generalist, though, is that it is possible to be an expert in more than one discipline. That serial mastery at a personal level, or the ability to facilitate the partnership of multiple masters from different subjects, is where creativity and innovation happen.
If you want to fix an economic crisis, do not just turn to experts in banking. If you want to address issues relating to global warming, seek to bring together experts from a diversity of different fields, not just one area of scientific research. If you want to tackle healthcare in an ageing population, look beyond medical practitioners and social welfare experts. There are lessons to be learned from multiple disciplines. Bringing them together is where the magic happens.
Bashing experts has become a new sport in the wake of the last UK general election and the Brexit vote, when pundits got things so wrong. But it is a sport often carried out by people who probably consider themselves experts too. I do have a significant problem with these self-titled gurus whose loudly proclaimed and shallow ‘expertise’ is all geared towards putting money in their bank accounts. They are full of sound and fury but, on closer inspection, what they say signifies nothing.
I am reminded of a passage from the Tao Te Ching:
Those who put on a show are not enlightened.
Those who are self-righteous are not respected.
Those who boast achieve nothing.
Those who brag will not endure.
We have to be careful of constraining our world, of living in an echo chamber. Experts who look beyond their own domain of knowledge and experience are to be valued. Lao Tsu goes on to acknowledge this in the Tao when he states: ‘Knowing others is wisdom; / Knowing the self is enlightenment.’ We have to be aware of our own limitations, and of the power of connection. Knowledge lives in the network, and true expertise comes from synthesis and combination. From an acceptance of not knowing at a personal level.
Curiosity about the unknown, exposure to the ideas and discoveries of others, its fusion with or replacement of the already known… This is what pulls us forward.
If our accumulated knowledge of the world makes up an island, the island grows as we learn more. (It may also occasionally shrink, as we discard an erroneous theory or explanation.) As with every island, this one is also surrounded by an ocean, in this case the ocean of the unknown. However—and here is the twist—as the island grows, so do the shores of our ignorance, the boundary between the known and the unknown. In other words, new knowledge generates new unknowns.
— Marcelo Gleiser, The Simple Beauty of the Unexpected
Unlearning is like the storm’s disturbing and agitating characteristics. It disturbs our sense of what we know. We are agitated when we discover we don’t know, and that compels us to go forward in search of knowing.
— Kyna Leski, The Storm of Creativity