Friday, March 27, 2009

The tyranny of experts.


Nicholas Kristof had an op-ed piece in yesterday's New York Times that is worth spending a few minutes with. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/26/opinion/26Kristof.html?_r=1
The piece was called "Learning How to Think" and it begins like this: "Ever wonder how financial experts could lead the world over the economic cliff? One explanation is that so-called experts turn out to be, in many situations, a stunningly poor source of expertise."

Kristof, of course, is talking about the GEM (Global Economic Meltdown) whereas I find relevance to the advertising industry. What's happened, I am speaking in broad strokes here, is that rather than applying common-sense and gut to our issues, we have turned to experts (or focus groups) to tell us what to do.

Philip Tetlock, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley studied over two decades some 82,000 predictions by 284 experts. It turns out the experts' predictions were only a tiny bit better than random. As Kristof writes, "the equivalent of a chimpanzee throwing darts at a board."

No wonder our whole industry is depressed.

3 comments:

Tore Claesson said...

Not that I will ever find out if my predictions (or ideas) ever would have been better than those that won, as they mostly were killed in research of various kinds, but the frustration lingers. The few times gut has prevailed things have turned out rather successfully.

Anonymous said...

That article reminded me of a boss I once had. On the surface, he was kind and convincing and an eloquent speaker. It took me (and a few clients) a number of years to realize all that stuff coming out of his mouth was one massive volume of hot air. All talk and no action. Experts make their living out of it.

geo said...

I think Harry Truman defined an expert as an asshole from out of town. Or with an accent.