Expertise and advice

by John_Maxwell1 min read27th May 20124 comments


Distillation & Pedagogy
Personal Blog

In his essay "How The Type Of Advice Someone Can Give Can Change Over Time", the author of writes: someone starts to become proficient in a field, they can start to take all the basic little steps for granted. With time they may even start to forget what it was like to be a beginner, or lose touch with how it felt to not have certain abilities. I've noticed this happening myself.


Once someone internalizes the basics and moves into more advanced levels of skill, I've noticed they can want to focus on the bigger picture. They'll want to figure out a handful of profound, succinct principles that tie all the advice about a field together.


I think beginners often need that drilled down, specific information though. Sometimes they need to learn some tactics as well before talk of larger strategies can really sink in. I also think if an advice giver gets too broad and abstract, his ideas can become vague to the point of being unhelpful.

If you're trying to learn something, it's natural to try to find the best people in the field to learn from. And if you're thinking of sharing your thoughts on something, it's natural to think twice unless you have a proven track record of accomplishments in that area.

A better model of advice dissemination might focus on the derivative of a person's abilities. For example, if you're an amateur at something and you stumble on something that really seems to help, write it up even if you haven't reached the peak of expertise yet. And if you're looking for advice, don't be afraid to read writing by other amateurs--they are the ones who are at your stage and trying to improve themselves.
Of course, experts who do a lot of hands-on work helping amateurs are probably the best.


4 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 4:49 PM
New Comment

Yes. Be specific! The same point is made here: Monads are burritos.

In playing sports for most of my life I've found that the best instructors are those who can really remember what it was like to have little technical proficiency, and then are able to distill the precise, concrete steps necessary to move on from that beginning stage.

P.S. I apologize for going off-topic, but I was curious about the site "Succeed Socially" that you linked to. After skimming a few articles, this author seems to know what they're talking about in regards to social 'skills'. However, since there are relatively many articles, I'm not sure whether my time would be well-spent trying to absorb all of this information. Do any readers have (anecdotal) evidence as to how much the articles may have actually helped in improving social skills?

"To learn, read. To know, write. To master, teach."

I've noticed it myself, too. You really do forget what it's like until you find someone who /really/ wants to learn but doesn't know anything at all. I think there's a lot to be said for the apprenticeship system for use in human learning. I have severe doubts about the ability of a human to master a thing without a student to teach.

I think the real question is how do we retain information better, if that would happen, then surely you don't need someone to actively remind you of hidden information. If I retained 1% of the stuff I've read in the past, I'd be the equivalent to an encyclopaedia. I write tutorials sometimes, and my ability to write good ones has never depended on the presence or absence on participants.