One of the specialist’s most successful discoveries was that he could easily defend his territory by the simple development of a specialized language... incomprehensible to everyone else.
Consequently, we have seen an explosion in terminology that has left the world reeling, with the mistaken belief these words have come from the English language. However, subject after subject and profession after profession have had their general understanding of their functions ripped out of the public’s hands in the process.
There never was this issue in the past with reading the works of Adam Smith, Voltaire, Locke, Marx, Popper or the like. A person with no university credentials can understand what capitalism was based on - but cannot read a modern analyst report as a result of the specialized terminology that exists, with the effect these subjects of expertise are being questioned as to having any value at all.
Take for example the recent liquidation of Arabtec. Between primary, secondary and tertiary claims, the existing shareholder has been told that his return of investment is effectively zero. However, the same company a year ago was touting a book value backlog in excess of Dh50 billion, which was going to lead to substantial value enhancement.
Clearly, despite the effects of COVID-19, there is something that is being lost in translation when it comes to explaining the demise of this once gigantic company. Much the same could have been said about some of the other companies such as NMC, Marka or Drake & Scull International, where the difference in projections and valuations, with profitability and cash flow divergence not being explained enough to the small investor. And who then won't understand the reasoning behind the sudden disappearance of value.
For the same small investor, when we look at explaining the resurgence of real estate transactions, there is something off when secondary sales have hit a six-year high, even as offplan sales have declined, where earlier the emphasis was the other way around.
Not able to grasp
Whether the rhetoric used is for primary or secondary sales - and whether sophistry of statistical models are used or not - the median observer is left with the feeling that vernacular is being used to obscure understanding rather than enhance it. This dents confidence, and is a consequence of language preventing, rather than enhancing communication, suggesting that dialogue, and thinking has entered into serious degeneracy.
The expert ofcourse argues that none of this is so, claiming that his expanded language has paralleled an expanded understanding in his area that is limited precisely to fellow experts in this field. When faced with outside questioning, the response has normally been to release a flood of undecipherable data, with the maximum amount of complexity with suggestions that the questioner may perhaps not be competent enough to understand the answer.
We have seen the building of an ecosystem post-COVID-19 that has appeared to move past the obfuscation of data, but legacy systems are hard to eradicate. Even as we make sense of the new bankruptcy laws and how that applies to investments in companies like Arabtec, or whether the recent “surge” in real estate transactions is in fact real or another way for analysts and vested interests to “spin” their narrative, the overall impetus has been to understand the purpose of language, which is communication.
Disservice to communication
It has no other reason for existence. Therefore, there is no need for private dialects to evolve which renders it impossible for outsiders to disagree. The last thing that expertise must encourage is this kind of barrier, and yet this is precisely what has happened.
As we look ahead - a year where rebuilding of hopes and dreams are required and hopefully realized - the hope is that this reset also involves the removal of unnecessary expertise. An obsession of which renders public discussion almost impossible.
“Experts” if they are to continue to exist, must serve to enhance understanding, rather than adding to the complexity. In other words, the goal of the expert must not be to render the outsider powerless, as he draws him into the box.
Here’s to 2021 where jargon is replaced by richly textured communication, symbolizing the ethos of great civilizations of the past.
- Sameer Lakhani is Managing Director of Global Capital Partners.