How to be an expert on anything
July 28, 2006
With all the “how to” posts doing the rounds in blog land I thought I’d better jump on the band wagon. But then I found Stephen Colbert’s list of How to be an expert on anything in Wired and thought that he said it better than I possibly could – I like it, I really, really like it!
PICK A FIELD THAT CAN’T BE VERIFIED. Try something like string theory or God’s will: “I speak to God. I’m sorry that you can’t also.” Security experts are in this category: They have security clearances, we don’t. We can’t question the expertise of the NSA because we are not in the NSA.
CHOOSE A SUBJECT THAT’S ACTUALLY SECRET. Dan Brown invented a secret subject for The Da Vinci Code, so now he is forever an expert on this secret subject that no one can challenge. Anybody who attacks the secret subject is, by definition, part of the cabal.
GET YOUR OWN ENTRY IN AN ENCYCLOPEDIA. In the media age, everybody was famous for 15 minutes. In the Wikipedia age, everybody can be an expert in five minutes. Special bonus: You can edit your own entry to make yourself seem even smarter.
USE THE WORD ZEITGEIST AS OFTEN AS POSSIBLE. Ideally, you want to find words that sound familiar but people don’t really know their definitions: zeitgeist, bildungsroman, doppelgänger – better yet, anything Latin. But avoid paradigm. It’s so 1994. If you say the word paradigm, everybody knows you’re a poser.
BE SURE TO USE LOTS OF ABBREVIATIONS AND ACRONYMS. Someone who says the words operations security may be educated, but the person who uses the military abbreviation Opsec is clearly an expert. If I use the term Gitmo, that means I’ve actually been there. If you say, “We’re going to Defcon 1,” it means you probably have the launch codes. Real experts don’t have time for extra syllables.
SPEAK FROM THE BALLS, NOT FROM THE DIAPHRAGM. In the expert game, you’ve got to have sack. That means speaking with confidence. In America, you’ve got to steer clear of nuance and ambivalence – and don’t even contemplate doubt.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO MAKE THINGS UP. Never fear being exposed as a fraud. Experts make things up all the time. They’re qualified to.
DON’T LIMIT YOURSELF TO CURRENT KNOWLEDGE. If you worry too much about being up-to-date, you miss out on vast territories of obsolete knowledge just waiting to be reclaimed. Think of leech-craft and all the lonely experts in the use of the little creatures, which are now experiencing a renaissance in health care.
GET AN HONORARY PHD. They work wonders. I have a doctorate in fine arts from Knox College in Illinois. All I did was give a speech, and now everybody has to call me Dr. Colbert.
MAKE A HABIT OF NAME-DROPPING. Say things like “I was talking to John Hockenberry yesterday for my story in Wired. Have you seen my cover?” I plan to use this issue of Wired to assert that I now know everything about wires.
BE FAMOUS. IT HELPS.