I devoted an entire chapter of The Myth of Motivation the idea that you should talk to a pro, not a trainer, when you need help creating a routine to achieve a goal. (If you want to start a business, a teacher can be helpful…but a successful entrepreneur has lived necessary steps.)
Advantages? They know what you need to do.
But what if you want to learn How? ‘Or’ What do something?
That’s when turning to an expert might not be the best idea. According to a study just published in Psychological sciencestop performers generally don’t give better advice than top performers.
That’s partly because research also shows that experts tend to be so advanced in skill that their advice is beyond a non-expert’s comprehension. (And sometimes, especially when a physical skill is involved, experts can’t necessarily explain what effort, practice, and muscle memory allow them to do.)
Take my NASCAR driver friend Ross Chastain. Ross and I went karting together. I rode in a race car with Ross at Road Atlanta. He gave me driving tips. They’re awesome… but also, in many ways, beyond me.
Not only does he operate on a level I can’t relate to, but his years of racing experience have resulted in skills so intuitive that they at least partially defy self-analysis. Like doctors whose experience allows them to make surprisingly quick judgments, intuitive decisions are often the product of years of experience and thousands of hours of practice.
As the authors of a 2005 study write:
Contrary to the claims of knowledge engineers, we argue that expertise in general…cannot be captured in rule-based expert systems, since expertise is based on the elaboration of immediate and unthinking situational responses ; intuitive judgment is the mark of expertise.
Oddly enough, this means that experts are probably not the best teachers, because their expertise almost prevents them from explaining – to people like you and me – what they are doing.
Here’s a fun example of this discovery in action (h/t at Ethan Mollick, professor at Wharton):
This is all a problem, and not just because research shows that we tend to think experts will be the best teachers.
We also believe that the people who give the most advice are experts.
As the researchers write:
Even though the advice of the top performing advisors was no more beneficial than the advice of other advisors, the participants believed that it had been — and they believed it despite the fact that they had not been told on the performance of their advisors.
Why? Top performers didn’t give better advice, but they gave more, and participants apparently confused quantity with quality (my italics.)
These studies suggest that execution and advice can often be unrelated skills and that in at least some areas, people may overvalue advice from the best.
Yes: Not only do we assume that top performers provide better advice, but we also assume that people who give a lot of advice must be experts: this quantity is somehow equal to the quantity.
Like Professor Mollick writes“The very nature of an expert makes it difficult to clearly teach your expertise to others. Experts combine so much complex intuition and experience into decisions that it’s hard to share.”
If you need to learn what do – if you need a process or a routine – hire an expert. (Ask a pro.) Say you want to run a marathon; someone who’s actually run a marathon can give you a hands-on, real-life workout plan.
If you need to learn How? ‘Or’ What do something – if you want to learn how to run with efficient biomechanics – ask an expert teacher.
Finally, if you have access to an expert, take advantage of it, but keep your questions simple.
When I was on a go-kart track with Ross, I asked him for a tip. He told me to go hard on the S turns.
“Go wide,” he says, “press the inside corner of the first turn, then press the wall just before the narrowest point of the next one. That’s the line you want to take. The back end might slip a bit on the exit of the last corner and you can kiss the wall, but that’s okay.”
Because even though experts have such vast experience and such deep intuition, it’s actually impossible to share how they know what they know…if you ask the right questions, you may be able to learn. to do a thing or two like they do. To do.
That’s all you can – and according to research, should – ask.