The Grey Chronicles


More And More About Less And Less

Almost everyone of us encountered the saying: “too many cooks spoiled the broth.” I was wondering if this is also true to too many experts! Or I was on to a quest to find, yet again: Do more experts in a particular place create more problems?

I had to qualify: a particular place for purposes of exclusivity because experts litter the planet and not to solicit undue attention from all of them, but rather to a particular breed of experts in a single locality, say a manufacturing plant.

Expert: A Definition

According to popular definitions, an expert is anyone who is holding a briefcase and is more that 50 miles from home. In another definition, an expert is anyone who has the self-confidence to consider himself or herself an expert. An expert is someone who continually learns more and more about less and less. Experts in this post, however, are either expatriate advisors, consultants, and technical experts engaged to supplement local expertise in problem-solving.

Wikepedia defines expert as:

“[A] reliable source of technique or skill whose faculty for judging or deciding rightly, justly, or wisely is accorded authority and status by their peers or the public in a specific well distinguished domain. An expert, more generally, is a person with extensive knowledge or ability in a particular area of study. . . An expert can be, by virtue of training, education, profession, publication or experience, believed to have special knowledge of a subject beyond that of the average person, sufficient that others may officially (and legally) rely upon the individual’s opinion. . . Experts have a prolonged or intense experience through practice and education in a particular field. In specific fields, the definition of expert is well established by consensus and therefore it is not necessary for an individual to have a professional or academic qualification for them to be accepted as an expert.” [Emphasis supplied.]

In contrast, a specialist has to be able to solve a problem and an expert has to know its solution. The opposite of an expert is generally known as a layperson. The opposite of a specialist would be a generalist, somebody with expertise in many fields. A novice (known colloquially as a newbie or greenhorn) is any person that is new to any science or field of study or activity or social cause and who is undergoing training in order to meet normal requirements of being regarded a mature and equal participant.

Expertise ≡ Competence

Toward a General Theory of Expertise (1991)

Toward a General Theory of Expertise (1991)

In epistemology, the concepts of experts and expertise are debated. It is a known fact, moreover that a person may well be an expert in one field and a layperson in many other fields. Salthouse (1991) writes:

“[E]xpertise should be measured of actual competence, rather that a possible correlate of competence such as amount of experience or social consensus. Mere experience may not be sufficient to produce high levels of proficiency. Consensual judgments can be influenced by a variety of characteristics other than true competence, such as popularity or reputation.”

Salthouse (1991), thus, proposed that there is nearly always as continuum of competence or expertise, regardless of the absolute levels of performance.

Germain (2006) developed a measure of perception of employee expertise called the Generalized Expertise Measure (GEM), a 16-item scale consisting of Evidence-Base and Self-Enhancement expertise items. Objective Evidence-based items relate to specific knowledge, education, working knowledge, qualifications and training. Subjective Self-Enhancement items consist of ambition, situational assessment, self-improvement, charisma, deduction, intuition, judgment, drive, self-assurance, self-confidence, and out-going personality.

Informally, the term expert is widely used with people being described as experts in order to bolster the relative value of their opinion, when no objective criteria for their expertise is available. The term crank is likewise used to disparage opinions.

Expatriates ≠ Experts

In April 2001, Donna Woodward’s article (2001) in The Jakarta Post opened a debate on expats as experts. She asks:

“for an end to the hypocrisy that prevails when expatriates advisors come here as "experts", accept expert-level salaries and perks, then assume a demeanor of unworthiness to advise. It is to appeal consultants not to demur from advocating new or even extremely new ideas and programs.” [Emphasis supplied.]

Woodward’s article, Irdus (2001) replied, “raises the awareness of the incapacity of the locals to properly evaluate the expatriates, while on the other, the readiness and willingness of nonexpert expatriates to assume, accept and act in the role of experts when they are not.”

Moreover, Kyrway (2001) went further, “If foreign companies are prepared to pay exorbitant bills for expats, it means that they feel more assured with higher paid but more reliable specialists than with local personnel. Even when this evaluation is at times mistaken, they have a right to such a misperception. It is after all their money that is at risk, not the government’s.”

Unfortunately, Philippine research on expatriates is absent from on-line literature. Based on personal encounters, moreover, these abovementioned snippets—on Indonesia’s experiences—are similarly true in the Philippines, particularly at GSPI.

Examples range from a supposedly electronics expert who does not know what an SCR is; a production planning expat-expert who does not know his own job details; a system engineer who does not know computer programming but relied on trial-and-error methods; an annealing expert who does not know what annealing color looks like; a maintenance planner who never understood the difference between a maintenance policy and a maintenance technology; or to a rolling expert who does not know what a thermal crown is!


My research found the following basic points: (1) expertise equates to competence, not experience. (2) not all expats are experts, and (3) experts are highly paid. By rudimentary logic, using the (2) and (3) basic points, it follows that not all expats should be highly paid. Unfortunately, the reality is the opposite of this logic.

Maybe the expats at GSPI score very highly in GEM’s Self-Enhancement items. Or maybe, they self-confidently introduce themselves as experts to bolster the relative value of their opinion.

Most of these expats-experts came to the Philippines to supplement local expertise in problem-solving but have yet to prove their competence to do so, or does not offer solutions, but asks a continual whys. Thus, it is more likely that they create more problems instead of solutions.

Are they simply victims of their own opinion of themselves, or are they here in the Philippines to learn more and more about less and less?


Germain, Marie-Line (2006). Development and preliminary validation of a psychometric measure of expertise: The Generalized Expertise Measure (GEM). Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation. Florida: Barry University, 2006. back to text

Irdus, Nirwan (2001). Not all expats are experts. Jakarta: The Jakarta Post, 17 April 2001. back to text

Kyrway, Idris (2001). The Value of Expatriate Experts. Jakarta: The Jakarta Post, 18 May 2001. back to text

Salthouse, Timothy A. (1991). Expertise as the circumvention of human processing limitations. Toward a General Theory of Expertise: Prospects and Limits edited by Karl Anders Ericsson & Jacqui Smith. Cambridge University Press, 1991. pp. 286-9. back to text

Woodward, Donna (2001). Foreign advisers and consultants as catalysts. Jakarta: The Jakarta Post, 11 April 2001. back to text

Disclaimer: The posts on this site does not necessarily represent any organization’s positions, strategies or opinions; and unless otherwise expressly stated, are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Philippines License.



  1. This topic is quite trendy in the net at the moment. What do you pay attention to while choosing what to write about?

    Comment by Ex Girlfiend — 2009.April.9 @ 09:23 | Reply

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