Daniel Lemire's blog

, 2 min read

Should you follow the experts?

It is silly to say that ignorance is strength. However, the contrary statement is not follow the experts. The right knowledge is strength. The tricky part is that determining what you should know is just as hard as learning it. So, while the expert might be sitting on the shoulders of giants, these giants might be looking in the wrong direction or maybe they have been sinking in quicksand. The only thing that experts have going for themselves is that they tend to be consistent: if they make mistakes, they are the expected mistakes.


  • The financial crisis of 2008 was not on the radar of the mainstream economists. However, original thinkers like Nouriel Roubini and Nassim Nicholas Taleb did predict it with accurate arguments. They are still being dismissed by mainstream economists as lucky. Indeed, mainstream economists often argue that the events that matter, such as the big crashes and the significant surges, are fundamentally unpredictable. How convenient!- The Web was invented by a physicist, not by a librarian. Many librarians resisted the Web.
  • Wikipedia was not invented by a publishing house editing an encyclopedia. In fact, most publishers such as Encyclopædia Britannica ridiculed wikipedia. Instead, it was founded by someone who failed to complete his Ph.D. in finance and went to work for a trading company instead.
  • YouTube was not invented by a media company or a TV station. It was invented by hackers who had worked together at Paypal, where they were trying to disrupt the banking industry.
  • Blogs and Twitter were not invented by journalists. Blogging was invented by a hacker. In fact, journalists ridiculed blogs initially.
  • Amazon.com was invented by a computer scientist, not a bookstore owner. Bookstores were dismissive of Amazon.com initially.
  • The iPhone was invented by a company that made computers and MP3 players, not portable phones.
  • The leading edge in self-driving cars is not at General Motors, but at Google, a search company.

The practical lessons are:

  • Be wary of groupthink. Mainstream experts are most likely to fall prey to groupthink. The worse of it is that introduces systematic errors: every expert will tend to make the same mistake so that the unanimous view might be fatally flawed.
  • Being an expert is overrated when innovation is needed. What if you had planned to invent Amazon.com? You might have decided to go in the bookstore business for a few years to make sure you understood books. Or you might have worked for a publishing house. By the time you had a decade of experience you would probably have not been able to build Amazon.com. Too much of your point of view would be dependent on the old ways.