Experts, time, and quality

2015-05-18 2 min read

    We live in a world where it’s impractical to be a generalist so we specialize in a subset of skills and go to others for everything else. This works well but there’s still imperfect information - it’s tough to gauge someone’s skill level when you’re not an expert. In fact, when we lack awareness we end up using time spent as a proxy for skill when comparing across service providers. Imagine going to two barbers that charge the same amount for a haircut but one takes 10 minutes and the other takes 30 minutes. Even if we can’t tell the difference between the two haircuts we’d value the 30 minute one more due to the time difference. This seems backwards. The barber that was able to achieve the same result in 10 minutes is the more skilled one but instead we feel swindled when we back the price into an hourly rate. We should be willing to pay more for the 10 minute haircut since it gives us more time for our own pursuits. Yet when we lack knowledge we opt for the shortcut of equating time and skill. I’m trying to break this tendency by thinking about the end result rather than the effort and time involved. It’s interesting to compare this to software development. I know that just because someone spent more time on a project doesn’t mean it’s better than someone who knocked it out yet I still view other skilled professions from a “time equals quality” perspective. It makes you wonder whether professionals in other industries have a similar mindset where they realize time spent isn’t an indicator of quality in their own profession yet view it as a sign of quality in others.