Expert Edward, Headstrong Harry

September 22, 2018


Expert Edward is an authority. He has 2 degrees and a successful career. He knows his stuff and people know he knows his stuff. When Expert Edward talks, people listen.

Headstrong Harry is younger than Expert Edward. He has less experience and is less of a recognized expert than Edward. But he's a fast learner, which means he's often the smartest guy in the room. He wants to contribute; he's tired of being ignored.

When these two meet, it's always fireworks.

People listen to Expert Edward because he's on the mark 95% of the time. He's seen this movie, he knows how things play out, he's tired of being questioned by people who don't know what they're talking about. Especially that arrogant little twerp, Harry.

Expert Edward thinks Harry is rude and disrespectful. Harry thinks he wouldn't have to be so rude, except it's the only way to get people to pay attention. Harry thinks Edward is a bloviating jerk who loves the sound of his own voice, and he's right. Edward loves the social position he gets from being "the expert".

Edward knows they'd arrive at the conclusion more quickly if everyone would just shut up and do what he says; he's also right. Edward humors Harry, that rude little jerk, and eventually the decision comes down exactly as Edward suggested, 15 minutes ago.

Ultimately, they both want one thing: to be heard.


  1. Is expertise important? "Over the years, I've come to think of the DC/Silicon Valley difference like this: The DC mindset is shaped by watching solvable problems prove impossible to solve. The Silicon Valley mindset is shaped by watching impossible problems prove possible to solve. The second sounds better than the first, and probably is, but it will also warp you. It makes you doubt expertise, downplay problems, assume skeptics are just haters, act in ways that are brilliant if they pay off but reckless if they don't." - Ezra Klein (emphasis mine). I think the point about doubting expertise is very important to acknowledge; it seems to be a recurring theme.
  2. How does power distance affect the situation? What happens in groups with mixed power distance, such as a town hall meeting with representatives from several ethnic enclaves?
  3. Is it OK to be forceful when you have an opinion you're sure is right? Is some level of "arrogance" OK or even preferable?
  4. Is it better to be likeable, or right?

I found myself in two situations this week where I was Harry in one, Edward in the other. It's tough knowing how to act.