What makes an expert?
This morning I was at the gym taking a swim. I was in a lane next to a kid, maybe 12-13 years old, who was getting coached by a young woman. As a former collegiate water polo player and high school swim coach, I noticed the woman’s coaching methods were not working for this kid. She wasn’t offering anything constructive to fix his form, and I thought to myself, “You’re doing it wrong.”
Being good at something does not necessarily make you an expert. As my husband and I watched my beloved Golden State Warriors take on the Cavs in the NBA finals, my husband mentioned how weird it was that Mark Jackson was commentating on the game. Just the year earlier he was coaching the team, and he was mediocre at best (he did, however, lead the Warriors to the playoffs for the first time in 17 years, but he also had the Splash Brothers). Jackson was a great player, but as a coach, he couldn’t lead his time to the finals. As a coach, he was doing it wrong.
Using sports analogies got me thinking: what make a planner an expert? Planners generally go to planning school where they learn about common issues, and learn strategies to solve these issues by applying planning theories. Does getting an “A” in an Economic Development class mean you’re an expert? Robert Moses and Pruitt-Igoe have shown that past “experts” did it wrong. A planner that knows a lot about planning theory and was academically successful is NOT an expert. Planning, to be successful, takes a team. We rely on community members, city staff and officials, and motivated stakeholders and community leaders. Much like Steph Curry needs Clay Thompson to be the Splash Brothers and Steve Kerr has effectively used all the players on his team, planners need a team of people, which should include other planners, to be successful. Expertise comes from a broad understanding of issues and the exchange of ideas for possible solutions.
The swim coach at the gym should have watched how other coaches work with different swimmers. She should have consulted with the kid’s parents to understand the best way to communicate with him. She cannot be a good coach without having a community of people helping her understand what coaching techniques could make this specific boy a good swimmer. Similarly with planning, without out a community-based approach that combines known planning strategies, we could not be considered experts; we’d be doing it wrong.
And on that note: