Your new car has developed a problem, you dropped it off at the mechanic garage, they “fix it” and billed you so much yet after one day of driving the car you discover the problem still exists and another fault has developed in addition to the existing one. This is very common in Nigeria, not just with car mechanics, but with service providers in every aspect of our daily lives from domestic staff, to bricklayers, to plumbers, electrician, hairstylist, tailors. You name them. The simple cause of this unfortunate situation is that most of these people or businesses we hire to solve our problems are not experts at what they do.
So the question is who is an expert and how can I identify one?
According to the Collins Dictionary an expert is a person who is very skilled at doing something or who knows a lot about a particular subject. By this definition anyone who has stuck to doing a particular task, trade or has studied very wide on a particular topic and has extensive knowledge in that topic, area or field can be referred to as an expert in that field.
According to Wikipedia An expert is someone who has a broad and deep competence in terms of knowledge, skill and experience through practice and education in a particular field. … An expert, more generally, is a person with extensive knowledge or ability in a particular area of study based on research, experience, or occupation.
According to the Collins Dictionary definition, there are two types of experts: Type 1 being one that possesses knowledge about a particular subject, and Type 2 is one that possesses the required skills in a particular area of expertise (skill being the ability to do an activity or a job well according to the Cambridge Dictionary). The Type 1 experts are pretty common. They do not need to have any practical experience, all they need to have is a broad theoretical knowledge or divinely inspired wisdom about the subject in question and that qualifies them to be called experts. They are everywhere, most times causing problems for those who patronize them(although some actually add great value and provide solutions to those who consult with them.) A perfect example of a Type 1 expert will be the teenage life coach or the fresh out-of-University management consultant. They may be widely read and can proffer solutions to your problem based on things they read or listen to but when push comes to shove, their limited experience can cost you dearly.
The type 2 experts on the other hand are not that common. They have been there and done that. They have seen a very wide range of issues and have overcome them so you stand a better chance of your problem being successfully solved if you work with them. Practical knowledge is very different from theoretical knowledge. It is better to pay a premium for the service of an expert by skill/experience than a fair price for one by knowledge. But before we go further let me quickly put out a disclaimer here – Even with the type 2 experts, you have to very careful as lack of personal discipline, finesse, and integrity on their part can make working with them a worse experience than with Type 1.
I have attended different training on one subject. Many of the things taught during such training are pretty standard and universal, but I find that the true value comes from the practical examples which come from true life challenges. Those practical, real-life experiences are what differentiates Les Brown from the young motivational speaker who has read and listened to all Les Brown’s books and audio materials. They may dress the same, talk the same, sound the same, and even use the same examples, but one is able to give you real life-changing counsel that will move you out of your position of pain because (s)he has been there, experienced your pain and confusion and has somehow overcome or passed through it and came out alive. The other can only advise you based on what his guts tell him or what he has read. This can be very dangerous and expensive to the receiver of such advice.
So please do not get me wrong, I am not saying that a lack of skill or the practical application of knowledge invalidates the Type 1 expert. All I am saying is that for those of you who are experts by acquired knowledge, we should do everything within our power to build skills through the application of that knowledge we possess, first in safe environment, then in the market. Remember, one who keeps acquiring knowledge without an outlet to apply it is no better than he who does not possess it at all.
Now to those of use who are looking to hire the service of an expert, I am sure you know just what to look for (skill built from practical experiences) so do not get fooled by the educational certificates. The questions your inquiry or conversation must answer should be
“Can you deliver?”
“Have you done it before?“
“Can you provide verifiable proof?”
Are your past results consistent?”
“Do you have testimonials or references I can read or hear from?”
“How do you intend to go about solving my challenge?”
“What are the specifics (materials, quantity, measurements, design, etc) you are going to be using?”
“Is his/her approach logical?”
“Does it show that (s)he truly has an understanding of the problem or what I want?”
By the time you get satisfactory answers to these questions, you should know whether that person you are talking to is your expert or not. If the answers are not satisfactory then the search is still on. However, in cases where the task at hand is low risk and suboptimal performance is not fatal, you may choose to settle for the Type 1 Expert and work closely with him/her to get the results you desire (probably at a cheaper price).
This approach should apply to every service that you set out to get. The workmen or service provider may be annoyed by you but you must not let their annoyance faze you because, if you don’t, by the time they are done wreaking the havoc, you will be left to lick your wounds.
“I am sorry Ma”, “I am sorry sir”
is all they will say and that does not fix anything. I am sure you can relate with this.
A personal experience. The wall of my house where the meter board was installed had weakened over time and because of the change over switches were also installed on that same meter board it came off. I got a bricklayer to reinforce the wall. We spoke over the phone with me quizzing him to be sure he was a type 2 expert. He verbally quoted the materials we were to use and the cost. In my usual fashion, I told him to document it and send me a text which he did. By the time it can and I reviewed it I saw the real total for the cost written was about N1,500.00 more expensive than the correct total. I corrected it and sent him money, he made the purchase and came to execute the next day. I was satisfied.
In comes the carpenter, I ask for how he intends to execute his work.
“Oga no worry I go do am fine.”
Was his response immediately I knew I had every cause to worry. I insisted and he walked me through what he intended to do, it made sense so we moved on to specifics.
“What is the measurement of the board you are going to use?”
“Oga I say no worry! I go do am fine.”
he answered already beginning to get impatience but I was not fazed by it. Eventually, He measures the existing meter board which had the meter, electrical cutouts, and a change over switch (PHCN to Generator), he now goes ahead to measure the second changeover box (small gen to big gen) without measuring the protruding lever for the actual changing over which was about 3 inches long. I had to point that out. Had I not gone through that process with him the board would have been short. The implication of that will be either getting an extension or “managing it like that” (I am sure my Naija people can relate with this phrase).
One disaster averted! I decided to get him to fix my blinds (two of them had fallen off because the guy who installed them, and was sent by a tested and trusted expert, did a terrible job. I insisted on being there during the installation but the carpenter was upset and could not understand why I could not trust him with “ordinary” blinds installation. He said
“Oga I don dey do this work for 18 years! Just go where you dey go, I go do am fine.”
After plenty of English and explaining and leaving practical step-by-step instruction, I left them and went out for a meeting. I got back a couple of hours later and a slanted blind was what welcomed me. I pointed it out immediately, but like every Naija workman, the first reply was
“Oga e no bend at all o!”
He turned to his assistant and ask
“Abi the thing bend?”
The assistant responded in the negative. I simply told them it is not straight and they were not getting a kobo more from me if they did not fix it. They kept insisting until they suggested that we measure the distance from the floor to the existing blind socket that did not fall and the blind beside it. The measures were 663/4 inches while what the socket the installed was 66 inches. 18 years’ experience could not detect that simple yet very obvious flaw. To him, it was not a big deal and not worth the trouble but I insisted. They fixed it after which I transferred their payment. They were about leaving when I brought to their notice that they had littered my compound with broken wood and wood chips. The apologized and said they usually tidied up after jobs but they somehow they forgot this time. To be honest I no longer cared. Just clean up and get out of my house! I thought.
“Oga I forget to tell you… I dey do big electrical contract work so just in case you get.” the electrical said smiling sheepishly.
We had two issues on this very tiny project. How did he think I will be confident enough to recommend you for a contract running into millions of Naira. Definitely not me. They finished and left.
These kind of encounters happen every day in Naija – sometimes 5 – 10 times a day depending on how busy your day is. Maintain your sanity, and protect your lives and property by following the steps recommended above (if you are not already applying them). This is about the only way you can get to extract positive value from the “experts”.
Any interesting personal experiences or additional tips? Anyone?