Are You a True Expert in Your Field?

Updated: March 21, 2012


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What is the color of the central square?
This is a guest post by Maria of Fitness Reloaded.

Look at the picture above.

What if I told you that the center square in the top face (the brown square) has the exact same color of the center square in the face standing in the shadow (the "orange" square)?

What makes them look so different? The context.

In the first picture, the two squares have different contexts: one of them has lots of light, while the other one is in the shadow. When context gets eliminated in the second picture, we can clearly see that the two squares are the same.

An expert has to answer a question

An exercise newbie asks a fitness expert: "When is the best time to exercise?"

An intermediate exerciser ask a fitness expert: "When is the best time to exercise?"

Both of those people ask the same question. Should both of them get the same answer?

The answer is NO. Why? Because even though the question is the same, the context is different.

In this case, the context is the exercise experience of each person. One of them is newbie, and the other one is already intermediate.

But isn't there only one right answer to "the best time to exercise" question?

Yes, and no. Sometimes the perfect answer for each person includes guidance or coaching. It may need creative thinking AND technical knowledge. Or, sometimes, the best answer is a provoking question.

Let's dive deeper.

Experts are often technically correct, but contextually wrong

Experts are usually well-meaning people: They don't want to misguide you on purpose, and they get genuinely happy when they use their expertise to solve your problem.

However, sometimes expert advice becomes misleading. Even though it may sound correct, it may actually be useless or even harmful to the person that asks the question.

Experts are usually well-meaning folks though. They truly want to help you. They end up giving misleading advice because they answer questions with the most straightforward technically correct answers that come to their head.

Still, even though their answer may be technically correct, their advice may be wrong.

What actually matters vs. what doesn't

Beginners do not yet have the experience to distinguish between what is important vs. what is not.

Yet, as with any skill or knowledge, people care about two things:

  1. Getting results.
  2. Shortcuts to get results.
This is all fine, as it leads people to being efficient. However, results and shortcuts should not be what people care primarily about. This is counter-intuitive, isn't it?

For example, in the fitness space, questions tend to belong in two major categories: Results-oriented and minutiae.

The Results-oriented questions

Results-oriented questions tend to focus on the goal: Will I get to my destination if I do X?

Question #1: Will I get a beach body if I follow your method?

Expert answer: "Yes, you will! Every time you work out you will be burning X calories, and if you do this for Y time, then by Z month, you will have shed A pounds, and fit in a size B pants. You will be ready to hit the beach!"

Question #2: If I go to the gym 3 times a week, will I soon become very fit?

Expert answer: "It depends on your workout and on what you mean by "very fit". If you do A type of workouts that include lots of weights then you will feel significantly fitter in B weeks. If you do C type of workouts with lots of cardio you will feel significantly fitter in D weeks. However, if your aim is to get ripped, then you need to change your nutrition. You need to increase the amount of protein and cut back on the amount of carbs you eat. You need to track what you eat. You need blah, blah, blah.

The experts gave a beautiful answer to both questions. They were technically correct in both cases. They do know their stuff after all!

As for the people asking the questions, it's perfectly normal to want to get a beach body or become "very fit".

However, their answers may not be the right ones, even though they were technically correct. But more on that in a minute.

The Minutiae Questions

The minutiae questions focus on details of a subject. Details are indeed important for some people, but for 95% of them, they only make things complicated. Still, people love talking about them. They sound cool too!

Question #1: What is the best exercise method to burn fat?

"C method of exercise, has X benefits, while B method of exercise has Y benefits."

Question #2: What is the ideal length of a cardio workout?

"It depends on your goal. If you aim for endurance, do X. If you aim for fat burning, do Y."

As I said earlier, people look for shortcuts. They want a simple answer. If only they knew the ONE thing they need to do, then they would do it!

Are you a true expert?

These questions would be totally fine if they were asked by someone who is already exercising and just wants to level it up.

When the questions are asked by total beginners though, the mentality is wrong. This kind of mentality produces bad results:

People start exercising, get results, and then quit: slowly witnessing their "results" go away.

Years later they will look at their old photos of when they were fit and talk about how good it was, how much more energy they had, and feel guilty for having let it all go away.

What is worse, they may conclude that exercise is "too hard", that they cannot stick to it, and they may never try to get back to exercising again. How is this decision going to affect their long-term health?

You see, what matters for beginners is to start exercising, and actually stick to it. Make it a habit. Once they get used to exercising, and reach a stage when NOT exercising feels weird, then they can level it up if they want to.

Thus, when one of those questions is asked by a beginner, the right answer does not involve a mini lecture on how to get results and the science behind them. This will only trick beginners to chasing those results, and then risking falling hard.

The right answer involves coaching.

The right answer in this case involves asking about the motivation behind exercise and explaining the difference between getting results fast vs. getting results that last.

Here's another reason technical answers may not be the best answers for some people.

Let's say that Stacy wants to lose fat. She asks the ideal cardio length question.

She gets an answer, let's say 45 min.

However, Stacy hates cardio. She hates the treadmill. She pushes herself to do it every time. She manages to get some results during her first month of exercise, but she has come to hate exercise.

In the end she decides that exercise is too much work. So she quits, as she cannot keep pushing herself when she is on the treadmill.

Thus, for Stacy, the best answer could be 10 min = just enough so that she can do it without hating it.

She can build on those 10 min as she gets used to doing cardio (e.g., 10 min in the first month, 15 min in the second month, etc.) , or she can use other alternatives:

  • She may do interval cardio = e.g. 10 min on a treadmill, 10 min on a bike, 10 min on the elliptical, so that she does not get bored.
  • She may stick to 10 min cardio, but make her weight lifting sessions more "cardio-like". For example, she may do 1 set of pushups, 1 set of squats, 1 set of the plank, 1 set of assisted pull-ups, then 2 min break. Then, she repeats the cycle all over again without stopping between each exercise.
  • [More options exist, but this is not the point of this article!]
You see, even though 45 min may be a technically correct and is indeed a straightforward answer, the most suitable answer for Stacy in particular may need to be totally different (but still technically correct!). This is the difference between an expert, and a true expert!

When an expert is a true expert

A true expert should not just be technically correct, but they should also be able to distinguish the differences that come through context.

A newbie of any field cannot know what is important vs. what isn't. However, a true expert is expected to have that knowledge.

So now my question to you is: Have you ever received technically correct, but contextually wrong advice from experts? What was it?

But most importantly, think about your field, and ponder: Are you a true expert?


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