Expert Witless

STAR Tannery, Virginia – My name is Jeanne Jackson and I’m an expert.

An expert at what?

I don’t know yet. Give me a few months.

Okay, so maybe it takes a little longer to become an expert at something. But apparently it doesn’t take as long as it used to.

I suppose I should explain what I always thought constituted an “expert.” From Merriam Webster: “one with the special skill or knowledge representing mastery of a particular subject.”

In other words, not only does an expert know about the subject, he has also put that knowledge to practical application enough times to know what works and what doesn’t – hence, “mastery.” Boiled down to a simple formula, an expert is made by combining knowledge and experience.

So I honestly thought it was a joke when I found a program that teaches how to become an expert. Because apparently you don’t achieve expertise, you promote yourself to it. I especially like the line: “Would it help your business if you were thought of as an expert?” (emphasis mine).

Well, yeah, I guess I could talk people into doing just about any stupid thing. But are people really that gullible? I have one word for you: infomercials.

In my never-ending quest for stable employment I once applied for an editorial job for two women who had what looked to be a consulting firm that offered seminars. Part of the process was to submit an edited chapter of a book they had self-published and required seminar participants to purchase.

The firm acted as consultants to corporations who wanted to reconcile its older workers with its younger workers – a legitimate need, I was sure, though it struck me as a rather narrow parameter on which to base an entire consulting firm. But, I guessed, if these women had seen a corporate trend of generational conflict interfering with corporate production, who was I to argue?

Upon further investigation on my part, it turned out both women were in their 20s and had less than five years’ experience working in the corporate world. Their self-published book turned out to be a combination of self-help psychobabble and thinly-veiled whining about how older managers in corporations they had worked for hadn’t given them the respect they felt their brand new college degrees deserved.

One need only do the math to realize they’d not been in the corporate world long enough to see this as a trend nor to know whether or not their “methods” were successful. They had not been in the corporate world long enough to scuff their sensible black pumps.

Still, they were booking seminars all over the country. I can only assume that corporate personnel departments (or “human resource” departments) employ youngsters just like them, overseen by long-standing department heads who really like to knock off early.

I thought of this while watching Hardball with Chris Matthews and there on the screen appeared a young man who looked as though, lacking his own, he had borrowed his Dad’s nice blue suit, tie and white shirt. He was offering his political analysis of some congressional topic or other. The young man was Washington Post staff writer Perry Bacon.

From what I can tell, Bacon is a good, competent reporter. But, with all due respect, since he graduated from Yale in 2002 (remember when graduating from Yale used to mean something?), as a reporter for Times magazine and in his current job as Post staffer, he has experienced only two presidential campaigns and, up until Jan. 20, only one administration. And here he was being touted as an expert political analyst alongside Newsweek senior correspondent and Washington Bureau Chief Howard Fineman and his 30-plus years of experience.

Aside from his background, Bacon just doesn’t have the same expertise to re-spin information I already know into terms that sound like I’m hearing something new, which is the whole point of being a pundit. Otherwise, it’s like I’m hearing my son read me the newspaper.

I’ve been knitting for about 35 years. I can make a sweater (eventually) from a pattern; can even come up with hats, scarves, gloves, mittens, dishcloths, blankets and even socks without a pattern. I am a competent knitter; but I’m not an expert.

Imagine my surprise when reading in the introduction of a slick, modern knitting book, the author admitting she could not put a sweater together. Huh? A knitting book costing over $25 written by a knitter who couldn’t manifest a sweater?

I imagine I’m just angry I didn’t write a similar book 25 years ago.

Twenty-five years ago, experts were vastly harder to come by.

Copyright (c) 2007, SteelWill, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Spot On is a trademark of SteelWill, Inc.

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