Jens Oliver Meiert

Expertise and the Inverted Parabola

Post from July 18, 2008 (↻ August 24, 2017), filed under .

I’m not a mathematician but it looks like applying one’s experience and expertise resulted in an inverted parabola of effort to be exercised. So knowledge or its use, respectively, seem to mean that beginners don’t know what to do and thus don’t do much, while true experts do less as they know what to leave out.

An inverted parabola.

Figure: My favorite parabola.

This is not a new “less is more” pleading but rather something I feel reminded of when, for example, observing HTML markup in the wild. So HTML novices create documents or sites using the 10 elements they know; after some time they use 25; at the zenith, having gained considerable experience, they go for all 77 elements of XHTML; at some point they discover that this might be excessive and make things simpler, likely for the sake of maintainability; one day, they wake up and throw everything out that is not needed, at all.

In other cases, designers decorate the hell on everything they find without adding any value and rather distracting from what is important, right after they struggled getting anything done at all and before eventually discovering that form should follow function and that design is not art is not decoration.

Same for the first website: Getting it out is the first objective, squashing everything in that is in range is next, normalizing the site might mean the next iteration, almost taking it off in order to focus on the relevant stuff eventually proves the learning process.

The accessibility élèves know the same deal: Add the first alt text, add input placeholder text, add “skip” links, add this, add that, then do the first test and remove some things again, as some techniques impose more problems than they solve, or aren’t our problem at all.

This may all be just logical, but I find it interesting regardless. There is no shortcut to gain expertise, and the beginner’s “not doing much” does not equal the experts’ “not doing much.” However, I wonder if beginners aren’t sometimes better off than the intermediates. After all, not knowing about something or not doing anything at all must not be a bad thing…

About the Author

Jens Oliver Meiert, photo of July 27, 2015.

Jens Oliver Meiert is an author, developer (O’Reilly, W3C, ex-Google), and philosopher. He experiments with art and adventure. Here on meiert.com he shares and generalizes and exaggerates some of his thoughts and experiences.

There’s more Jens in the archives and at Goodreads. If you have any questions or concerns (or recommendations) about what he writes, leave a comment or a message.

Comments (Closed)

  1. On July 18, 2008, 11:08 CEST, Robert said:

    After all, not knowing about something or not doing anything at all must not be a bad thing …

    This, dear master, is the definite proof that you might not be a proficient mathematician but well on your way to true Zen enlightenment 😉

  2. On July 18, 2008, 12:36 CEST, Stefan Asemota said:

    Come on Jens, only a true mathematician could have calculated the http://worlds-highest-website.com/ 😉 … really enjoying your thoughts. See you all at the bottom of the curve ! 😊

  3. On July 18, 2008, 16:23 CEST, Jens Oliver Meiert said:

    Robert, Stefan, haha, thank you! 😊

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