The Trouble With Expertise In Complex Fields

Fresh out of law school, it’s easy to forget that, compared to the general population, you are already something of an expert.  You have the tools to search for, read, and understand just what the hell that legalese actually means.  But, because you’re thrust into a world where the people you work for and interact with might have 30 years of experience in their field, because they’re actual experts, we feel lost and clueless.

But, surely that feeling will pass once we gain more experience, right?

In some respects, yes.  Many problems will be trivially easy to solve because you will have seen them before.  But someone who has been around for 30 years, and charging an expert’s rate for their time, probably isn’t dealing with many routine problems.  Instead, they’re dealing with new problems, hard problems, cutting edge things that haven’t been done before.  And they likely feel just as lost as the attorney fresh out of law school.

Q: What’s it like to have an understanding of very advanced mathematics?

A: You are comfortable with feeling like you have no deep understanding of the problem you are studying. Indeed, when you do have a deep understanding, you have solved the problem and it is time to do something else. This makes the total time you spend in life reveling in your mastery of something quite brief. One of the main skills of research scientists of any type is knowing how to work comfortably and productively in a state of confusion. More on this in the next few bullets.


The whole post over on Quora is worth reading.  It specifically answers the question as it pertains to math, but it holds for just about every field.  Definitely worth the read.

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One Response to The Trouble With Expertise In Complex Fields

  1. Paulo says:

    I’ve read this text about math too.
    Really good.

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