Not many of us would argue that the world is getting less complex. There are nights that I have a challenge sleeping. Those nights are most often times when my mind refuses to stop when my head reaches the pillow. I have solved problems during the night in a fitful state of almost sleep, but I usually have better luck finding answers after a full night of rest.
Like many who spend their time at keyboards, I have grown accustomed to asking Google questions that I would like solved. Sometimes I get useful answers especially to technical problems. The world is full of a lot of very bright technical people and most of them are willing to share their knowledge in the hopes you can take our accumulated knowledge a little further.
Unfortunately we also have more people than I care to count who are willing to declare themselves experts on everything with little or no true knowledge of the problems. Some of these folks will take a position on something which they obviously do not really understand. In fact the less they understand something, the harder they become to engage in any meaningful dialogue.
I long ago learned that the best way to figure out something was to listen to someone who knows more than me. Failing that, I have always resorted to reading something. Forty years ago, I read books to learn how to do something that I did not understand. When I was at Apple, I had the benefit of being able to hire smart people to help me figure out markets where I had no expertise.
In our web obessed world of today there is so much information out there that it is sometimes scary. Some of it is even pretty good if you can wade through it but just look at the number of results you get the next time you do a Google search for something.
The challenge is when you need to go beyond web advice and the top four or five search results. I think we have fewer real experts and more people who are willing to pretend to be experts. The company where I work helps communities build fiber networks for high speed Internet connectivity. Our parent company has been doing this longer than anyone in the business.
I recently saw a newsletter for a competitor which claimed that they serve "hundreds of city, county, and regional clients." Turns out their "hundreds" are more likely to be "tens" and they really have no expertise in certain areas. Still they get some business because lowest bid often wins in the government world and far too often our leaders are willing to accept any answer to a problem instead of working to get the right answer. Often the experts they turn to are half-baked ones who care more about the fees they receive than the advice they give or the results of the solutions they provide.
I still remember a software project that a company I worked for completed for the military. We were one of over twenty companies delivering training projects at the same time. We were also the only company out of the group which actually delivered a project that worked. As far as I could tell, all the other companies got paid even though their projects never worked. They probably added the failed projects to their advertising anyway.
Perhaps we are in this situation because our world is so complex that it is hard to create real experts, but I do not really buy into that. I think most real experts just have their heads down and their noses to the grindstone. We live in such a strange world. We shower money on athletes and CEOs. Some of those folks cannot even find their way out of limo. Yet we devalue learning and knowledge to the point that everyone thinks that information should be free. Strangely the same folks think there should be no consequences to the shoddy performance of a job.
Learning and information has a cost in time and money. The old saying is that you get what you pay for and I think it is true. If you do not pay anything, what you get is probably not worth much. If you pay people a minimum wage and expect them to know everything and serve your customers well, you are going to be disappointed.
People also assume the Internet can provide all the information they need for free so why should they have to pay someone for their information. I guess most of the people trusting the free information on the Internet have never read about companies manipulating their web reputations with false paid reviews. Companies like Google have figured out how to make money out of free, but most of the world has not mastered that.
I have never regreted paying for a book that taught me something or hiring a real expert to help me fix a problem or come up with a plan for a solution. There have been plenty of times that I wanted to hire an expert and I just could not find one to hire.
I have now done several books for the Kindle, but when I started doing one focused on images, I bought some very inexpensive books that in theory told me what to do. The books did have some answers but did not have all the answers that I needed and when I went searching on the Internet for more information, I found lots of conflicting answers but few if any that had any real value.
I ended up solving the challenges mostly on my own. It took a lot of time. I would have loved to have paid someone fifty dollars to give me the right answers which I know would have taken less than hour, but I never found that person. Hiring instant expertise is something we have yet to master, but we can get next day delivery of almost anything.
If I had wanted to find a recipe or how to tie a special fishing knot, I probably could have found some relatively good information on the web but it is likely I would have still ended up doing some tests on my own to make sure I got what I wanted. Getting knowledge to where it needs to be when it needs to be there is not an easy challenge to solve, but encouraging a minimum wage workforce to think they have all the answers when they do not will not make solving this lack of real expertise any easier.
A lot of this comes from companies who do not take the time to train people on the products that they are selling or companies who are unwilling to pay their people a decent wage. Then there are those companies who are even worse. They do not test the products they are selling and expect their customers to figure it out for themselves. If there is a problem, good luck getting any real help. These companies hide behind unintelligible phone trees and depend on frustration making you hang up as you are transferred from one person who supposedly can solve your problem to another who promises help but never delivers. I have spent hours doing this with Time-Warner cable.
I truly hope that the overabundance of answers and pseudo experts are not the long term trends that I fear. There is certainly no shortage of people out there with answers. The problem is that their answers never solve the questions we are asking or the problems that we bring to them.
Unfortunately today's fake experts and the people employing them are not willing to take the time to understand that. Employees have little incentive to gain any real knowledge. The companies they often work for are too cheap to really train anyone or pay for training to teach people how to actually think and solve problems they have never seen. Without real thinking skills, they fall back on denying the plausibility of the problem.
Of course an education system focused on standardized testing instead of teaching critical thinking skills is a root cause of this, but that is another story.