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What makes a good Sage?

Chris Martin 1

When you need an expert opinion, where do you turn?  How do you know who has the expertise to provide insight into your situation? Is book-learning more relevant, or do you need someone with hands-on, real-world experience? Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to these questions because of the diversity of problems that would benefit from expertise.  Think about the last time you needed help with a problem – where did you turn?  A friend?  Google or YouTube? Did you go to the library and do research? How much work did you do to verify that the sources you were looking at had the expertise you need?

The fundamental problem with finding an expert on the internet is trust. It is all too easy to find an opinion on the internet but figuring out the motives and reliability of opinions – not so much.  Crowdsourcing sites have been trying to help solve this problem for a while now. The idea being that more people commenting on something will tend to get closer to an accurate answer. “The wisdom of crowds.” Search engines use algorithms to evaluate the way sites link to each other, with the theory being that the sites with the most links are the most reliable. As you could deduce, an entirely new industry has evolved around gaming these algorithms.  This makes large, established brands easy to find online.  For smaller, more niche experts and subject matters, finding someone you can trust can be daunting.


On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.

When I was in graduate school, learning to evaluate the trustworthiness of sources was an essential part of the training.  In class after class, we looked at original source material – newspapers, journal articles, letters, and books – and asked questions like

  • Who is the author – when did they live, and where? 
  • What agenda are they trying to advance?
  • What information did they have or not have access to?
  • Who is their intended audience?
  • Why are they saying what they said?

Those questions are trying to establish how much we could trust what the source said. When you ask these questions, you quickly learn to be suspicious of people who are outside their areas of skill, and perhaps more importantly, you stop taking secondary and tertiary sources at their word.  This, more than anything nefarious, is why educators are so adamant that students do not use Wikipedia as a one-stop-shop for information.  Wikipedia isn’t bad, as such, and is a fantastic place to begin doing research! But, to mitigate for the fact that anyone can post anything and only other good-natured posters can contest/correct what is stated, you should do additional research into the supporting materials before you can trust anything posted there.

Anyone peddling their expertise online ought to be able to demonstrate the same kinds of reputation-verifying credentials that you’d expect from a Wikipedia author, at least!  Do they claim expertise in sales?  How long were they in the industry, and in what capacity?  Sports medicine?  Where did they get their degree, what kinds of athletes did they work with, and where? Mexican street food? Where did they live and when did they live there? What you want from an expert opinion is confidence that their advice is trustworthy. 


So why trust a Sage?

At Sage, you have a public database of questions that Sages have answered. Evaluate how they answer questions both in the area you’re looking for advice, as well as other areas of their expertise, and then decide if you’re willing to pay their fee for a private answer.  Many of the Sages have LinkedIn or other social media profiles in their biography, so you can take a closer look to see if their credentials line up with their claims.  

In my next piece, I’ll dig into the question, “Why would anyone pay money for an opinion, when people are giving them away for free?”  Spoiler alert: sometimes, you get what you pay for.

  1. […] In my last blog, I talked about trust and evaluating the sources you use.  Trust is paramount when putting your own money on the line. Trusting the advice of anyone, especially large corporations or institutions, means risking their advice benefiting them, not you. What you want is an advocate who understands the nature of your problem. Someone who wants the best outcome for you regardless of how your decision impacts them. A person or company who has the knowledge to guide you through your choices. The term for this is “fiduciary,” which simply means that they have agreed to place your interests above their own. That’s the gold standard for advice! […]

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