Although I can’t claim to have closely followed Donald Trump’s recent presidential campaign, I did pick up on one aspect of his pitch to voters – he heavily emphasised his success in business and suggested that it made him qualified to run the country.

Every Trump voter, whatever their unique reason for voting for him, agreed that he was qualified to run their country. Whilst I can’t read each voter’s mind, it seems fair to assume that this decision was based in large part on his success in business (given he has no political experience whatsoever and no other redeeming qualities that I can see).

This got me thinking about the way we look at ‘successful’ people. In particular, it highlighted the troubling reality of how much we trust ‘success’ to be an indicator of expertise. To sum it up, I’d suggest that the following is true:

 

We are often prepared to accept that someone who has had success in some field is therefore an expert in that field, with an opinion that should be trusted without question

 

I find this troubling for a number of reasons:

  1. ‘Success’ is so loosely defined that it can be achieved in many fields without anything resembling expertise (often luck alone will do, particularly in the short term)
  2. Who even defines success? Often it’s possible to label yourself as successful and convince other people that it’s the case
  3. Opinions shouldn’t be trusted without question, even from an expert

 

In reality, we’re even more trusting than that. I’d actually suggest that the following, more extreme (see bolded stuff) case is true:

 

We are often prepared to accept that someone who has had success in some field is therefore an expert about everything, with an opinion that should be trusted without question

 

This seems to be the case with Trump. But it’s not limited to that example – it’s frequently the case that we give far too much credit to people. Let’s be a little more questioning of expertise. Success doesn’t make an expert.

 


Also published on Medium.