Experts can be dangerous.
I’m the number one proponent of using the other 8 hours to learn from others, grow, and advance, but whenever you find yourself seeking information, guidance, or answers from an authority figure such as an expert or doctor, watch out! You just might save your life.
Last year James Arthur Ray, a self-help motivational speaker, was convicted of negligent homicide for the deaths of three people. He had a strong and passionate following, and for the three who died and the 18 others who were treated at hospitals, they followed him too far. James held a week-long spiritual retreat in Arizona where the members participated in a 36-hour fast, sleep deprivation, and a deadly sauna-like ceremony where 50+ participants endured sweltering heat for 2 ˝ hours.
As far as I know, participants were free to leave at any time. The doors weren’t locked and there were no burly guards blocking the exit. So why didn’t they? They followed an authority figure. They hung up their judgment and ability to think for themselves at the door. They looked to the leader — the expert to whom some paid $9,000 for the event — to tell them what to do. Even after feeling ill, vomiting, and collapsing, participants chose to stay. Of course, you would have run for the door . . . or would you?
Ever since the holocaust, psychologists have been intrigued by our obedience to authority figures. In one of the most infamous experiments, a completely demented and absolutely brilliant Stanley Milgram tested participants’ willingness to obey an authority figure who told them to administer dangerous shocks to another subject. Shockingly, 65% of the participants administered the highest voltage — even after the subject complained about having a heart condition!
It’s amazing what we’ll do when a stern guy in a lab coat tells us to, but what does this have to do with you? Everything. Thought leaders and experts can inspire and provide solutions, but if you follow them blindly, you can do yourself harm. Similar to the work I’ve done on the dangers of groupthink and social networking, here are a few questions on how to get the most from experts without losing yourself in the process:
1. What’s the downside? This should always be question #1. What’s the worst thing that could happen? Make sure you are clear on this before you do anything.
2. Does this make sense? You don’t have to be an expert to have common sense. If you get advice or are asked to do something, step back and ask yourself if it makes sense.
3. Why shouldn’t I do this? All signs point to yes, but can you think of any reason why you shouldn’t take the expert’s advice? If you are experiencing cognitive dissonance, you may not want to question what you’re doing, but it’s at this point where you need to the most.
4. What harm could come if I don’t do this? Will the world end? Will you lose a limb? Sometimes we build things up in our head to where we feel intense pressure to do something, but this question is great for deflating things and for putting the situation back into perspective.
5. What would happen if I waited? Really bad decisions are often made without much thought or reflection. Take a step back. Give yourself some time before you commit to anything.
In your quest to find answers and guidance, be careful not to blindly follow experts and authority figures. Make sure you ask yourself these five questions before you act. Trust me, I’m an expert…
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