• June 27, 2022

Beware of the expert

“When you’ve reached mastery in one art, you display it in every action. You control time.” – Yamamoto, “Pronate,” Racing Club EP (2000)

I’ve been learning about Business Intelligence recently. I’m not an expert, but at some point in the future, I will list it on my LinkedIn profile, and people will begin to endorse me for my Business Intelligence acumen. I will still be an absolute novice, but people who don’t know me well may begin to think that I am an expert.

This situation is not reserved for Business Intelligence, but applies to every field of endeavor. For example I am a programmer and today I consider myself to be an expert in my specific field of “front end development.” Occasionally I will presume to be an expert in UX, graphic design, database management; but I’m not. Nevertheless, people will listen to me on these related fields because I’m an “expert.” And that can be dangerous.

As part of my education in Business Intelligence I recently read an article written by Stephen Few, considered by many to be a leader (if not the leader) in the field. It was reviewing the quality of a chart used in Wired magazine.

Chart comparison based on an example of applying best practices to a chart from Wired magazine, by Stephen Few.
Chart comparison based on an example of applying best practices to a chart from Wired magazine, by Stephen Few.

He was singling it out in order to demonstrate how it could be improved and what it was doing wrong. It was primarily focused on accurate analysis. It was interesting, but I found myself disagreeing with him from a certain point of view.

One thing I agreed with was his point that the color scale was misrepresenting the figures. Any form of factual misrepresentation is dangerous, even if the reason for doing so is aesthetics.

However, he picks on the fact that “… this 3-D is completely gratuitous.”  I disagreed, because it makes the chart look attractive and this is a glossy magazine, not a research paper. The target audience is the general public and technology enthusiasts, not researchers. People are looking for a gist, not specifics.

Then there is the overall aesthetic and brand image of Wired, which would not at all be suited to the chart suggested in this article.

I realized that I didn’t disagree with Stephen Few’s article for reasons that had to do with Business Intelligence, but because the importance of other disciplines was ignored. This chart was for readers of a technology magazine, not for researchers or decision makers. It needed to include disciplines such as marketing, editing, branding and graphic design to make it appealing to that audience.

Even though Stephen Few is an expert, he is not an expert at everything. When we make bold assertions based on our primary expertise we run the risk of fooling others and ourselves. When we don’t take our limits into consideration, we may miss out on something better. We might be at a level of knowledge in complementary fields where we think we know it all, when we actually know very little.

“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” – Book of Proverbs

I’m lucky to be in a team with many disparate experts, each of which with his or her own niche, each of us willing to correct and be corrected—in other words, to be wary of the expert.



Where are you on the above chart?*

* Chart is an arbitrary representation based on experience and is in no way indicative of any form of facts or figures, and is the opinion of the author.

Douglas Maclaine-Cross 0 Posts

Douglas has been a developer for over 15 years. Early in his career he was instrumental in the production of many UK tourism portals for Wales, Lincolnshire, Birmingham and Yorkshire. From 2009 until 2014 Douglas was project leader and architect for the One.com Web Editor project. Now Douglas is proud to be a member of the Rocket Discover team; making a tool that can truly improve the world we live in by empowering decision makers.


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