Last Updated: Jan 6, 2016
How can you become an expert? Will reading about a topic or industry make you an expert? Here’s the low down on what it really takes to become an authority in your field.
The Internet has made everybody a self-proclaimed expert in something. Head over to Google and you can find information on any subject or issue you can think of. You can find top-level overview information all the way to the most in-depth, professional-level knowledge. It’s all right there for you but does reading the information qualify you as an expert? The answer is, probably not. If that’s the case, how do you become an expert?
What is an Expert?
Seems like an easy question, doesn’t it? An expert is somebody who knows everything they can realistically know about a certain subject. The problem is that there are very few of those people in the world and they’re probably too expensive and too busy to talk to for the average person. So can you be an expert without fitting that definition? Maybe an expert is somebody who reaches a certain level of knowledge but continues to learn throughout their career. With that in mind, the question might become, what is expert enough and how do you get there?
What’s Your Skill Set?
Everybody is good at something. You have skills and talents that other people don’t have. They might not be expert-level just yet but if you want to be considered an expert in something, start with a skill set that doesn’t require you to start from scratch. You can become an expert in a smaller amount of time if you build on knowledge you already have.
Stop Trying to do Everything
Sure, there are some people that can function at a very high level in more than one subject area. Because of their background and level of education they may have combined a few different disciplines into a consulting business where they function in an expert capacity but most people are best served by focusing on a single area and developing the skills. If, later on, you want to add another related field to your expert knowledge, you can.
It’s Going to Take Time
In 2007, the Harvard Business Review published an article titled “The Making of an Expert.” The article looked at the research already available on the subject. Here’s what it said about becoming an expert:
“The journey to truly superior performance is neither for the faint of heart nor for the impatient. The development of genuine expertise requires struggle, sacrifice, and honest, often painful self-assessment. There are no shortcuts. It will take you at least a decade to achieve expertise, and you will need to invest that time wisely, by engaging in “deliberate” practice—practice that focuses on tasks beyond your current level of competence and comfort. You will need a well-informed coach not only to guide you through deliberate practice but also to help you learn how to coach yourself.”
If you believe scholarly journals like the Harvard Business Review, many of the people who call themselves experts probably are not under HBR’s definition.
How Do You Measure Expertise?
First, an expert should have superior performance in their field. Going through years of college or a mentorship doesn’t make you an expert. You have to show you can perform better than others in your field. Second, your expertise should produce concrete results. If you’re a teacher, your students should perform better than other teachers’ children. If you’re an Internet marketer, your websites should bring in a lot more money and traffic than many of the other websites online. If you’re an athlete, you should have more wins on your record than others doing the same thing. Finally, according to research, expertise has to be measurable. Every field has ways to measure its workers. If there were no way to measure, a person couldn’t be called an expert because nobody would know if they’re actually better than the non-experts. Some fields are easier to measure than others but in all fields, it’s possible.
Does it Matter?
Interestingly, there are other data that show that expertise doesn’t increase performance. For example, HBR cites a study that found psychotherapists with decades of experience are no better at treating randomly assigned patients than therapists with a few months of training. Other studies find that the longer somebody is in a field, the less of an expert they become.
Becoming an expert is a combination of knowledge, experience, and well-practiced skillsets. It’s not reading an article, talking to another expert, or attending a conference. Deliberate practice involves improving skills you already have while also learning new skills in your field. It’s spending time painstakingly picking apart your current knowledge and skills and inviting others to do the same.
How much time should you practice your craft each day? Scientists say that you probably can’t practice more than a couple of hours per day and keep your brain engaged but if the goal is to function at a higher level than others in your field, you have to practice deliberately for an extended length of time each day.
Google doesn’t make an expert. Experts invest time and often money into reaching the top levels. Think about this: In a world of people claiming to be experts, consumers are often disappointed with the level of service they get from so-called experts. For those who truly invest into their craft to be a true expert, they stand to profit substantially.
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