Last night, Hiro Miyazaki and I finished the first draft of our new book, Retooling: Techniques for an Uncertain World. Our co-author, labor economist Yuji Genda, plans to work on revisions this month. The book is scheduled for publication in Japanese by NTT press in a few months. The book pulls together some of the key lessons from Hiro’s fieldwork among Japanese traders and my fieldwork among lawyers in the financial markets with insights from Hope Studies as pioneered by Yuji Genda. We hope to work on an English language version soon.
The central question of the book is, What makes a person a great expert? What is it like to be an expert at this moment of profound uncertainty? What are the challenges and the possibilities?
Over the last fifteen years we have been studying various categories of experts in the financial markets. We argue that the main feature of expert work is the necessity to make decisions in conditions of profound uncertainty. In other words, an expert is a person who confronts uncertainty at every turn and who has to decide what to do, constantly. This was always true, but it is even more true at this time of market volatility, environmental crisis, and geopolitical instability.
We have found that the best of experts across various fields are constantly retooling–they almost can’t stop themselves from tinkering with their expert tools (whether legal theories, statistical tools for market prediction, or bureaucratic information gathering techniques). Often, these truly exceptional experts do not get much support, at least at first, from their own institutions for this retooling work, and so their greatest achievements often begin as something they call “play”–something they do in their own time, on the side, collaboratively with other exceptional experts in their own fields and in other fields.
Right now many of these experts–we academics included–are facing something of a crisis. The old theories, the standard ways of doing things, the old divisions among fields no longer seem up to the task of current problems. For example, central bankers used to think they knew how to manage the economy, but they have lost any such confidence. The public has less faith than ever in experts of all kinds, from financial professionals to lawyers to doctors to university researchers. We have plenty of doubts about ourselves too.
So how can we live with the unknowability all around us? How can we face a future that is impossible to control? There is no expert manual. Yet we have no choice but to create expert techniques to live with it–no choice but to retool.
So we would like to hear from you:
-What are the major kinds of uncertainty in your field at the moment, challenges you were not necessarily trained to deal with in your formal education, challenges that seem to lead to the demise of many able members of your profession? How, in other words, is your kind of expertise facing limits? How are these forms of uncertainty linked to current events in your country or in the world at large?
-How do these uncertainties impact on your daily work, from how you choose to manage your time, to how you communicate with various constituencies for your work inside and outside your own institution, to how you solve problems or manage projects? Concrete examples from your own work or the work of others in your field would be fantastic.
-How are you confronting these challenges to your own expertise? What other kinds of creative responses have you observed from others? What ideas do you have about how you or others might address these challenges?