Avoiding the expert mountain

I remember when I was about six or seven years old and was first learning to ride a bicycle. I had training wheels on my two-wheeler for what seemed like forever. One day, I noticed that the training wheels weren’t touching the ground as I rode, so I asked my dad to take them off. Riding down the sidewalk, I felt empowered that I had learned a new skill and felt that I had mastered riding a big-boy bike.

Until I rounded the first corner, and the wheels slipped out from under me. Boom! Down I went.

I wasn’t such an expert, after all.

Life is like that. We get a taste of the knowledge we seek, and we learn a bit more, and a bit more, and it starts to come to us. We think of ourselves as well-versed shortly after we begin. Sooner or later, though, we learn that we didn’t know nearly as much as we thought we knew. Looking back on my own career, both in Scouting and in work, I can see that many times I climbed the “expert mountain” only to find out later that I had no idea how little I actually knew then, despite my feelings at the time.

As we embark on a new venture in Scouting, we need to realize that we won’t be experts right away. In fact, there is so much to learn that we will probably never know it all. Thinking that we are an expert when we’re not can lead us down a path of deception and cause us to sometimes do the wrong things.

The diagram above illustrates the “expert mountain” effect. It’s from strategist blogger Simon Wardley. He admits it’s meant to be a joke, not based on any actual statistics or research, but can serve as a valid social commentary about those who think they know more than they do. But it illustrates the phenomenon that as we learn, we gain confidence in what we know, but that eventually we begin to realize how much we don’t know.

You’ll find that the longer you stay in Scouting, the more you will learn, but also you’ll learn that there is much more to learn than what you already know. And when we “change jobs” in Scouting (from, say, a Cub Scout den leader to an assistant Scoutmaster in a troop), the learning curve starts all over again, and we’re again looking at another “expert mountain”.

If we take it easy, learn all we can, but don’t jump ahead of ourselves, we can pace our learning and put it to best use helping our young people enjoy their Scouting experience. Don’t go so fast that the wheels slide out from under you and you’ll enjoy a smooth, steady ride.

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