These days, people who claim to be experts in every conceivable area of business are a dime a dozen and, in most cases, I'd say that they (and their alleged expertise and advice) are worth just about that much. Out-of-date ideas from people who haven't kept up with the developments in new technologies are not worth listening to--politely or otherwise.
Some of these so-called experts are one-hit wonders trying to re-invent themselves, and it's not clear whether their prior "success" was mainly due to a good idea, good partners, good timing, or simple good luck. So you have to wonder--as you're listening to their war stories--exactly how much transferable wisdom they've gained from their own experiences and how much of that knowledge will be of use and value to your own business.
Just like cigarettes, some of these characters ought to come with a large warning label (maybe something like "take this advice with as many large grains of salt as possible") because--in addition to wasting your time and money--they can clearly be harmful to your business. In today's high-velocity and hyper-competitive markets, heading in the wrong direction can leave you struggling to play catch-up with your competition.
Sure, there are always valuable things to be learned from others and there really are experts who can add value to your strategy and your business--if their input is timely and current. But it's not easy to separate the wheat from the chaff or to figure out who can really give you a helping hand and your money's worth. Your time is a scarce and precious resource. If you're going to spend it listening to anyone for any substantial amount of time, make sure that they know what they're talking about. Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind:
Process experts have a longer shelf life than domain experts. A domain expert knows a lot about what to do in a defined space or industry. That knowledge is the stuff that spoils quickly over time if it's not refreshed, especially with regard to new technologies. It's critical to be a life-long and continual learner. A process expert, on the other hand, knows how to repeatedly do things effectively in whatever situation or industry you happen to be in. Successful serial entrepreneurs call this skill "pattern recognition." It means simply that many situations present problems that aren't materially different (regardless of the specifics) from those that seasoned operators have seen and solved hundreds of times before. People who know the proper approaches and have mastered the change management process never go out of date.
An expert's knowledge can exceed his experience, but only rarely. There's a lot of delusional mythology around the extensibility of skills and expertise. Much of this BS is promulgated by the people trying to sell you their services even when it's an obvious stretch to believe they can really add value based on their actual background and experience. Even the most successful players need to know and admit the limits of their skill sets. (Consider Michael Jordan's abortive career as a professional baseball player.) For instance, many lawyers won't say no to doing anything, regardless of their actual qualifications. They're always ready to take the fee and the assignment--and then you have the privilege of paying for their on-the-job learning curve. You need to find the right person with the right experience in the right industry (your industry). Don't settle for someone who claims what they did elsewhere is easy to apply to your situation.
Knowledge is subject to the law of diminishing returns, in most cases. Knowledge and expertise not go stale, but they can also take you only so far. After a certain point, the facts and figures and past wisdom run out of steam, and this is when the best entrepreneurs really earn their stripes and their keep. It's at that point you need to use your best judgment, your intuition, and a little prayer (which never hurts) to get you over the last hurdle to the finish line. No one else can do that for you. No one else can make those last calls and choices. It's all up to you because--in the final analysis, and in the critical moments of decision--no one knows your business better than you do.
Remember, past results are no guarantee of future performance. A track record is an important and very valuable part of the evaluation process for any expert, but you're not headed backward and your job is to make sure that the people you are planning to work with have the desire, the energy, and the skills to help you move your business forward.