My dad was an old-fashioned copper.
Many, many years ago he was called to a dead body, upstairs in a boarding house.
The body was laying on its back in the middle of the room.
No carpet, just floorboards, hardly any furniture.
Dad had seen a lot of dead bodies but this one didn’t look quite right.
It wasn’t in a natural position for someone who had just collapsed.
It looked artificially arranged.
But he couldn’t touch it until the Medical Examiner arrived, so he waited.
Eventually the Examiner turned up, clearly in a bad mood.
Dad said “Here’s the body sir”.
The Examiner said “Thank you sergeant, I can recognise a dead body on my own”.
So Dad kept his thoughts to himself.
The Examiner checked for a pulse, and started writing out a certificate.
Dad said “Don’t you want us to turn him over sir, so you can get a better look?”
The Examiner huffed and said “Sergeant, are you a doctor?”
Dad said “No sir”.
The Examiner said “Well I am, and I can recognise a heart-attack when I see one.”
And he carried on writing out the certificate saying that the man died of a heart attack.
Finally he said “Now the examination is complete, you may remove the body’.
And he turned to leave.
Dad and the constable turned the body over.
As the Examiner was going through the door, Dad said “Er, excuse me sir”.
The Examiner rolled his eyes and exhaled “What is it now, Sergeant?”
Dad started counting.
He said “This bloke’s got one, two, three, four, five, six, seven stab wounds in his back sir.”
The examiner said “WHAT?”
Dad said “I thought that position didn’t look natural”.
The examiner said “But there’s no blood on the floor”.
Dad said “No sir, it looks like he was killed somewhere else and moved here. I thought the position looked a bit funny”.
The examiner said “Well you might have said something, Sergeant”.
Dad swallowed and didn’t answer.
But he did learn something about experts.
They know everything about everything and never need to listen to anyone else.
And if it ever goes wrong it’s never their fault.
Like Dad said, what’s the point arguing: an ordinary copper against a Medical Examiner?
But that lesson did rub off on me.
I learned that experts actually don’t have any more brains than the rest of us.
They certainly don’t know everything.
That knowledge gives us freedom.
As Steve Jobs said “The great lesson in life is that everything you see around you was made up by people who are no smarter than you. And you can change it.”
Or, as the newspaper tycoon, William Randolph Hearst, said “I don’t hire experts to tell me what to do. I hire experts to tell me how to do what I want to do.”
That’s the important thing I learned about experts.
Whether in marketing, technology, new-media, strategy, semiotics, whatever.
They may be experts in what they do, but they’re not experts in what I do.