Expert: Don’t believe all that ‘expert’ advice


By Kevin Slimp
Newspaper consultant

I don’t know about you, but I’m not much of a sitter.

By that, I mean I can sit through a speech for a few minutes, but then I usually start to get antsy. That’s when my mind starts drifting and my body gets squirmy.

That may sound strange coming from a guy that gives speeches for a living, but it’s probably the reason that I usually finish talking a few minutes ahead of schedule. I empathize with the audience.

The exception comes when I hear someone really smart. Funny, I can sit and listen to a brilliant thinker for hours, although it seems people with the most to say generally are the ones who say it in the shortest amount of time.

That was the case three days ago, when I heard Dr. James Hildreth, dean of the College of Biological Sciences at the University of California – Davis, a pioneer in HIV and AIDS research, address the graduating doctoral and master’s degree candidates at the University of Arkansas.

Hildreth spoke for no more than five minutes, but I’ll never forget what he said.

“You should know,” he began, “that most of what you’ve learned in your time as a student is wrong.”

He had my attention as he continued, “But that’s OK. The most important thing you’ve learned at this university is how to think.”

I couldn’t help but think of all the speakers and teachers I’ve had over the years. Just try “helping” a middle school student with homework. When I try to help my children with their math homework, I quickly learn that math has changed and my answers are no longer valid.

Hildreth is right. The most important thing we learn through education and experience is how to think. Accepting information as gospel just because it comes to us from an “expert” is no more valid than assuming everything we’ve learned in school is valid.

Maybe we could learn something about newspapers from Hildreth. Perhaps our teachers have been wrong.

Maybe we’ve been listening to experts when we should have been using our own experience to think about the best ways to move our publications forward.

Of course, I could be wrong.

Kevin Slimp works as a newspaper industry trainer, speaker, writer and consultant.