Too Many Experts

Stuck in Line
Do you ever call some number for customer service and sit through a nearly endless series of voice prompts just to ask a simple question?

Have you ever dealt with someone who hides behind the tiny slice of the world that he seems to be in charge of? He might only be in charge of a form, but he’s determined to make you fill it out according to every rule he can think of, as if his life depended on it.

Someone designs an efficient way to do something in business or anywhere else. This is provided as a series of steps, questions, forms.
Then, some workers are given the job of following and enforcing the process, too often blindly, or ignorant of the big picture.

And sometimes it’s a machine (such as voice prompts or a series of forms on the internet) that steps you through this process.

When people are dehumanized by giving them tiny responsibilities and cut off from real goals and a spirit of service, it’s no wonder that they sometimes resort to pettiness, as they try to hold on to the only small power they are given.

Of course, there are many workers who provide wonderful service, even in the midst of a broken system.

The Burden of Hierarchy
Do we need managers?
Do we need layer after layer of managers all in charge of directing other people to do work, instead of doing it themselves?

Why do people build hierarchies, anyway?
Part of it is power.
We pretend to be fulfilled through getting power over others.

What gives us a sense of self-worth?
Sadly, it’s no longer what we are capable of doing, or actually do.
In the power mindset, we derive our self-worth from how much control we can exert over others.
Even if that control is in some tiny, pointless area of life.

Expertise and Complexity
There are legitimate reasons why hierarchies get started.
Hierarchies sometimes get started because of expertise.
Expertise takes time to develop.

In every area, there are only a few people who are the absolute best. Their expertise may require uncommon natural ability and years of experience.
They don’t have the time to provide service to everyone who might want their help.

So someone sets up a system. This system uses people who have a basic level of expertise. They provide the first level of help to people with questions.

They act as a filter. If the first level can’t help someone, then they pass that person to the next level of the hierarchy where the people have more experience and can handle more difficult problems.

This hierarchy frees the most experienced people to handle the most difficult problems.

Hierarchies and bureaucracies are also built to handle complexity and sheer numbers. A business may have to provide a wide variety of services, handle a wide variety of problems, or simply provide service for large numbers of people. In that case, it needs a structure which directs people with needs to the part of the business that can service them best.

So, what’s wrong with that?

On its own, probably very little.

Where Things Go Wrong

But we add to it conceit, and the desire for power.
Each level of experts, or department within a business, likes to pretend that they are the most important.
So they discourage people from going to another department or level. They ridicule people for questioning their expertise. They try to train people to accept whatever they are told without questioning things that don’t make sense. They discourage people from looking for another opinion if the answer seems wrong, or doesn’t provide satisfaction.

The experts at each level discourage people from being as independent as possible, and instead promote dependence.

In the religious realm, it would be like a priest, rabbi, minister, etc telling a congregant not to pray, because the leader will do that for her. (Thankfully that doesn’t happen too often. But, religious leaders, and religious organizations, with hierarchies and bureaucracies, and built of people, often suffer from the same problems that we’ve discussed above: getting caught in conceit, the desire for power, and encouraging dependence.)

And the experts on the highest level of a hierarchy may become so proud of themselves that they look down on the ordinary people who really need them, the people who they exist to serve. These experts stop listening when people ask them real questions.

Is their any point to that expertise, if it doesn’t service the people who need it?

Sure, let’s get rid of hierarchies that are purely based on arbitrary power.

But we can’t do away with hierarchies that are truly based on expertise, or are built to handle complexity or size.

We can change our expectations of these hierarchies.
Let’s streamline our structures to the number of levels that make sense, and say goodbye to bureaucracies that grow bigger and bigger.

We can demand that the people who work within hierarchies show respect for the people who they provide service to.
We can encourage people to think for themselves and question the experts.

If someone has expertise in some area, let her take pride in her achievements, and enjoy other benefits of that position.

But let’s remind her that she has greater power to serve others, and a responsibility to share that power.

7 comments to Too Many Experts

  • Ogo

    Interesting article! In this information age the number of experts out there can be mind boggling. However, people who are truly passionate about what they do never fail to inspire me…

  • Yup! I’m tired of dealing with voice messages and pushing the pound sign. I’m responding the only way that I know will be effective. I’m taking my business elsewhere AND . . . I’m notifying the companies of WHY (an important part of making an impact).

  • I love your blog! Yes, I too hate the vm and passing game. Today I had a good experience. I had an issue that did not get resolved–left messages and sent an email with no luck. The owner had given me his cell–so I called it and left a message. He called back within an hour, sent me his private email, and also told me that he had read my message during a live conference (sent it in to him).

    The frustration disappeared because of that simple act and also instilled more confidence in the program-which I was going to drop.

    It is a great lesson and I think people are going back to personal service and smaller businesses because of it. I know that I pick products and services with the personal touch over those who don’t have it.

  • Very nice Joel!

    There have been times where I feel like I know nothing because there are so many experts around claiming to know everything!

    Now the truth is I do know nothing (smile), but still sometimes it is nice to at least pretend I know something!


    Wishing you a great day!


  • Great article, Joel. You hit upon a lot of what is wrong out there today. Too many people trying to get what they want by exerting power over others. And too many of them are insulated from any consequences to their negative behavior.

    My mother recently went through this trying to get reimbursed for a prescription that was supposed to be covered by medicare. She spent hour upon hour talking to different people at the insurance company, the doctor, etc. always being told something different by people who were not helpful but didn’t suffer any consequences for abusing their power.

    If more people would just listen to Zig Ziglar ‘you can get what you want by helping others to get what they want.”


  • Beautiful article. You hit upon a lot of what is wrong out there today. Too many people trying to get what they want by exerting power over others. And too many of them are insulated from any consequences to their negative behavior. Article is quite interesting.
    I hope this article is very useful for upcoming generation .

  • Yes, it is always found, give a little authority to a certain few and it becomes the biggest deal in their lives.


    Ralph AKA noviorbis

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