Enough of the Guru Worship: Why We Should Demote Our Favorite Experts
We hear it all the time: We live and work in the “Information Age.” And most of the time, this is something to celebrate! We have more access, more ways to self-express, more choice, more technology, and more opportunities. It’s great!
The Information Age has a dark side: Advice Overload. It’s just so easy to do commodity work today. If we don’t have an idea or an answer, we can find and follow everyone else’s. We can slip into groupthink in our work. We can retreat into the view that most represents our own or cling to the tactics that best convey ease of execution or quickness of return. At very best, this leads to copycat thinking. At very worst, this leads to unrealized potential in our careers.
Today, I wanted to take a brief moment to step outside the endless search for better experts and wiser gurus and call for a simple switch in our thinking:
We view experts as people with answers. What if we viewed them as sources of possibilities instead?
Here’s why this could prove crucial in our attempts to create more exceptional work…
Over the summer, we used 8 episodes of my podcast, Unthinkable, to try and make sense of one idea: intuition. (If you want to explore the mini-arc, it begins with this episode titled “Our Journey Begins.”) Intuition is a squishy topic to say the least. Despite its presence and power in our lives, it’s rarely explained to us in a way that helps us proactively hone or apply it in our work. Albert Einstein once called it a “feeling” for the order lying behind the appearance of something. Malcolm Gladwell called it “rapid cognition” or snap judgments. Even in research psychology, people like Gary Klein and Gerd Gigerenzer don’t make it overly tangible, referring to our “subconscious reasoning” — an idea known as “priming” in the psychology world (stuff you experienced before but hardly noticed that influences your decisions later).
Whether you look at the definitions and explanations in pop science, harder science, or the rollercoaster of a ride we went on in those 8 podcast episodes, you’ll struggle to arrive at the conclusion that intuition is more powerful than the expert’s advice.
But no matter the explanation you find or create, one thing is clear: Your intuition is YOU, thinking for yourself.
It’s not your gut (guts don’t have thoughts) or the muse (a myth, after all). It’s you, coming up with a thought.
In other words, it’s this, but really fast:
And I think that SPEED is the reason we struggle to understand intuition and value it over the expert advice. When we think for ourselves or use our intuition, others can’t easily understand where we got that idea or where it leads us. We’ve taken a mental path that resembles an exponential curve, like this:
On the other hand, all the conventional thinking out there is like a straight line, and straight lines are easy to understand and explain.
Do you remember the equation for the slope of a straight line?
Rise over run.
That’s it. It’s the up versus the out. All you need are two points anywhere on the line, and you can quickly understand where it came from and where it leads you. And so the convention is easier to agree to or follow.
But what about that exponential curve created by using intuition? That’s much trickier to understand. Because who remembers how to calculate the slope of exponential curves?
I actually tried to look this up today, and, well…
Doing some research that led me down a rabbit hole of math PhDs & calculus & imaginary numbers. brb gotta watch cats do stuff on YouTube…
— Jay Acunzo (@jayacunzo) August 27, 2017
I found myself buried in lengthy videos and dense essays describing how, with “a few simple formulas pulled from basic calculus…” (eye twitch)
My exploration led to a lot of people saying, “It depends on the line and all this other stuff that makes my voice sound like the parents in Peanuts cartoons,” or my favorite response: “It’s not so bad. Here’s a PDF to read…”
The PDF was 120 pages.
One-hundred. And twenty. Pages.
Compare that to “rise over run,” and you can see why we struggle to explain intuition. We can’t easily tell where it came from or where it leads us — not like we can with conventional, linear thinking.
But using your intuition is still YOU. It’s just that YOU are running an exponential equation. You’ve taken this:
And you’ve turned it into this:
Intuition is your intent to do something, powered by the number of possibilities you’ve questioned.
In the Information Age, this is incredibly powerful. We’ve NEVER had more access to more possibilities. THAT is what all those experts are for: They don’t provide us with final answers, they arm us with some of the many possibilities we should consider.
That’s the easy part.
So the KEY is in asking the right questions of all that expert advice.
It’s time to demote our experts. They’re not bringers of answers. They’re sharers of possibilities.
Plug THAT into the formula above, and the most powerful individual in the equation isn’t them.
We found 6 questions that we can use to trust our intuition, i.e. think for ourselves, in this world of Advice Overload. They are…
- What is your aspirational anchor?
- Why are you the person or team to do this?
- What is your first-principle insight?
- Who are your true believers?
- What are your constraints?
- How can you expand?
To hear all 6 explained, as well as some incredible stories of people who dare to question conventional thinking, listen to the episode below, then the 7 that came after it:
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