Thursday, March 10, 2011

Opinion and Expertise

Over the last several months, I have been asking a number of audiences an innocent question:

"Who in this room, by a show of hands, has an opinion, one way or another, on global warming"?

More than 80% of the hands go up. People will share their thoughts with others in the room on this issue.

After a few minutes, I will ask another question:

"For those who raised their hands and shared opinions, how many could deliver a one hour presentation next month at a symposium being held at Stanford University where 500 of the world's leading experts on global warming will gather to prepare a special report for the G8 leaders"?

Not even with a month to prepare, will anyone in the room dare to accept that invitation.

There is a world of difference between opinion and expertise.

Growing up in Denison, Texas, "Sully" showed hints of expertise at an early age. As a kid, "Sully" consistently placed in the 99th percentile in every academic category.In high school, he was president of the Latin club, a first chair flute and an honor student. In 1973, he graduated first in his class from the United States Air Force Academy before going on to fly F-4 jet fighters.

In total, "Sully" has more than 40 years and 27,000 hours of flying experience. That expertise came in handy on January 15, 2009 when his Airbus A320 left New York's LaGuardia Airport bound for Charlotte, North Carolina. Shortly after take off, he radioed air traffic control that the plane had hit a large flock of birds, disabling both engines. The left engine caught fire.

Since runways were crowded at LaGuardia and other, nearby airports, "Sully" and co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles determined that ditching in the Hudson River off Manhattan, was their only option. After telling passengers to "brace for impact", "Sully" guided US Air Flight 1549 to a smooth ditching in the river at 3:31 P.M. All 155 passengers and crew members survived, but not before "Sully" walked the length of the plane twice and made certain he was the last man to leave.

Both President Bush and President-elect Obama called to thank "Sully" personally.

Later, on "60 Minutes", Chesley Sullenberger told Katie Couric that the moments before the crash were "the worst sickening, pit-of-your-stomach, falling-through-the-floor feeling" he had ever experienced. He also said, " That for 42 years, I've been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience: education and training. And on January 15, the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal".

In his book, "Outliers", Malcom Gladwell suggests that to gain perfection in any activity, an individual must spend 10,000 hours practicing it. He points to examples like Bill Gates, the Beatles, Tiger Woods, and others, where the data supports this thinking. While the "10,000 Hour Rule" is not the only factor that leads to perfection of any skill, it is an important one.

You will meet hundreds, if not thousands of people in your lifetime who will be lightning quick to offer up opinions on a wide range of subjects; from global warming to economic development; from airline safety to airport security; from hiring practices to health care; from parenting to politics, marketing, medicine, minor hockey and everything in between.

The list is endless.

But ask yourself, how many people do you know have the 10,000 hours necessary to bring expertise to any discussion or debate?

Be wary of those who can only sell you on an opinion.

If your shopping for something important, bet the farm on expertise.

Put your money on the real pros.

People like "Sully".

"Never become so much of an expert that you stop gaining expertise. View life as a continuous learning experience"

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