Weekly Wrap: Why We’re in the Age of the Expert (Especially in HR)

There’s a Scottish musician by the name of Dick Gaughan, who back in 2006 noticed something peculiar:

Every time I see a television program debating some issue, at some point some talking head gets introduced as “an expert” on the subject under discussion to tell us what we should think about it.”

Gaughan figured out then, as you may have also noticed, that today we live in a time where everyone with an ounce of insight and information on a specific topic seems to believe that this qualifies them to speak or write about it. Yes, “we are now living in the Age of the Expert,” as Gaughan puts it.

I can’t imagine there are many fields of endeavor filled with more would-be experts than there are in HR.

I’m not necessarily saying that this is a bad thing, because my experience has been that the more voices you get involved, the better the overall quality of the larger debate.

But Gaughan saw it differently. He believed that the Age of the Expert signaled the Beginning of the End.

The ascent of the Expert is a fascinating phenomenon and I believe it is something which can only happen in a civilization which is in terminal decline. In fact, so sure am I about this that I suggest it could actually be used in future as an aid to historical analysis. If you felt like calling it Gaughan’s Postulate, that would be OK with me…

We are now living in the Age of the Expert. I should explain that, according to Gaughan’s Postulate, the Age of the Expert is the stage in the decline of a society which comes between The Lunatics Taking Control of the Asylum (which immediately follows the stage called The Return to Traditional Values) and the final Terminal Collapse.

I haven’t yet determined the precise relationship between the number of experts and the stage of decline but give me time, I’m working on it. I’m certain it’s calculable given sufficient data…

With the loss of employment caused by the wholesale closure of manufacturing, all the people not employed in actually making anything but employed to oversee those who were, and who would have happily spent their lives sharpening pencils and sending memos to other pencil-sharpeners, have been let loose on the general populace. Their employment opportunities not exactly being thick on the ground, those who didn’t become style consultants, hospital administrators, pop stars or drug pushers have become Experts.

Without The Experts to guide us, it seems, we would be in terrible danger of falling into the awful trap of imagining we could think for ourselves. And we all know where that would lead.”

Now, anyone reading this right now on TLNT knows that there are tons of HR and talent management experts who are speaking, blogging, and generally making themselves available to anyone and everyone who will listen to them.

I look at the good people writing for TLNT more as thought leaders than experts, because really, once you get past a handful of true HR experts – people like Dave Ulrich, Dr. John Sullivan, Jack Welch, Kris Dunn, and a few others – most of the people writing and speaking about HR are really more smart thinkers than anything else.

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but what got me thinking about experts and HR was this odd little story coming out of Seattle that seemed to put the entire “expert” debate into its proper context.

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According to the Seattle Times, the 5-year-old son of Seattle Seahawks quarterback has become something of an expert in picking winners in this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament, also known as March Madness. As the newspaper reported:

Henry Hasselbeck isn’t quite a one-in-million shot.

More like No. 103 out of 5.9 million.

That’s where the 5-year-old son of Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck ranks in his NCAA tournament bracket on ESPN.com after 48 games. That puts Henry in the top 1 percent of all entries. Sister Mallory isn’t too shabby, either. She ranks in the top 3 percent.”

Now, this ranking doesn’t take into account last night’s tournament games, but the funny thing is how young Henry made his choices of teams – he picked them based on the team mascots and which ones he liked.

It just goes to show you, everyone and anyone can be an expert, and sometimes the person with the least actual experience is the smartest expert of them all.

Or as Dick Gaughan is fond of pointing out, “Experts built the Titanic. Amateurs built the Ark.”

But there’s more in the news than who is a real HR expert. Here are some other HR and workplace-related items you may have missed last week. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of HR and talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • It’s always Casual Friday on the web. Leave it to The New York Times to point out the obvious — when you work online and at a start-up, no one really cares how you dress. “It seems that if you dress up too much, you run the risk of not being taken seriously,” said Erica Zidel, a Seattle-based Web entrepreneur who attended Harvard around the same time as Mark Zuckerberg. “There is an unspoken rule in entrepreneurial culture that your look should be laid back.”
  • Drug test for state workers. New Florida Gov. Rick Scott is shaking up the Sunshine State’s workforce, and this week, according to the Palm Beach Post, he “signed an executive order…that will require random drug testing of many current state employees as well as pre-hire testing for applicants.” But the ACLU isn’t happy. As ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon said,”The state of Florida cannot force people to surrender their constitutional rights in order to work for the state. Absent any evidence of illegal drug use, or assigned a safety-sensitive job, people have a right to be left alone.”
  • “Disabled” worker runs a 7-mile race. State disability insurance attracts a lot of people who want to abuse the system, and here’s a good (some might say egregious) example of that from the San Francisco Chronicle: “Emily Hegner competed in a 7-mile Muir Woods run in April 2008…finishing 12th out of 23 women in her age group. But three months earlier, according to the state Department of Insurance, Hegner was classified as disabled and was collecting workers’ compensation benefits because of injuries she reported suffering in a slip-and-fall accident as a San Francisco hospital worker. And almost five months after the race, the department said, she told an orthopedic surgeon she was in pain most of the time, couldn’t return to work, and needed a cane to walk or climb stairs.” Hegner has turned herself in on criminal charges of grand theft, perjury and making a false or misleading statement in a workers’ compensation claim.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


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