The Importance of Experts

Posted on May 7, 2014

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Image Source: Scott Reinhard

As I age, I realize more and more how little I know and how futile it is for me to attempt certain things. Our time on earth is finite. It is impossible to become an expert in more than a few things during a lifetime. It’s even difficult to just be good at more than a few things.

My default setting for a long time has been “I want to learn everything”. Now that I have begun to grasp the vastness of the universe, I’ve begun to appreciate the experience of experts.

expert (noun):

a person who has special skill or knowledge in some particular field.

I’m an architect. So, naturally, I believe that whenever someone wants to build any type of structure, they should obtain the services of an architect (the expert). This also goes for many other professions as well.

Practice What You Preach

My car is 15 years old. Recently, the driver side door handle broke off. A local body shop told me it would cost $150 to fix. They could get the part in a couple days and fix it over a lunch break. Doesn’t seem so bad, right?

What you don’t know about me is that I’m cheap and a little too eager to “fix it myself”. I did a little research and found out that $150 was in fact a completely reasonable cost to do this repair. BUT, I found a cheap-o version of my broken door handle online ($5 from China as opposed to $100 from NAPA) and after watching a few YouTube videos thought, “I’ve got this”.

It took six weeks to get the part from China, and after spending two incredibly frustrating hours working on my car, I still had a broken door handle. Midway through “fixing” the car I had to go buy new machine screws, because the car’s original screws wouldn’t fit in the cheap-o replacement part I had ordered. After returning with new screws, I found out the replacement part was missing a second screw hole so you could only attach the handle on one side. This made the handle wobble like mad since it couldn’t be attached properly and within a day it stopped working all together, requiring me to enter my car from another door since there was no way to open my driver side door from the outside anymore.

Here’s the really stupid part. I hate working on cars. I have no interest in it whatsoever. The only reason I took a shot at fixing it was because I thought I could get away with the cheap fix and save $145. In the end I still had to pay the $150 (plus the $10 for replacement part and new screws), only now I had almost 2 months of lost time and frustration to add to that.

Time = Money

Last summer, my house needed to be re-roofed. I have done roofing before and know it’s not a technically difficult task. It is hard, physical work that requires at least a few people to get the job done quickly and correctly, though. I could have forced my friends/family to give up a weekend and join me in the blistering heat to do the roof (and save a couple thousand dollars). I knew this was a task I am entirely capable of, but realized it was something I had no interest in doing. By paying to have someone else do it, I was able to avoid the time suck and frustration it surely would have caused (definitely worth the extra money in this case).

Then there are those things you know will possibly be a lower quality if you do them, but completing the task will provide valuable experience for you to apply in the future. This summer, I will demolish and rebuild the back stairs to my house by myself. Yes, it will save me money to do it myself, but the task is not out of my range of skills. I know that hiring this job out may result in a better finished product, but this is the type of work I enjoy and hope to do more of in the future. I am willing to accept a possibly lower quality end product for the experience gained in doing this project.

What About Architecture?

Simply put expertise = value. There’s a reason why people who are the best at a certain types of work get paid the most. They will do a better job than those who are less experienced. Relating to architecture, it shows the value in specializing in certain project types. When people hire an architect for a job, they’re not looking for someone with similar experiences to their project type; they want someone with direct experience.  The most successful architects are not those trying to do a little bit of everything, they’re the guys who get really good at a couple things and become the go-to people for that task and that’s ok.

tl:dr

People become experts for a reason. They want to know about a subject so they devote a lot of time to learn and practice it. It would be foolish for us to think that we are capable of reaching the same end results with a modicum of their experience.

Take stock and think about the things you want to be an expert in. Discard everything else. You have now relieved yourself of many headaches and simultaneously given yourself time required to become better at the things you care about. There is no shame in having someone else perform a task when they are better suited for it.

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