Expertise: Do You Really Have Any?

Expertise: Do You Really Have Any?

There’s a new book out called “The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters” by Tom Nichols (2017). In it Nichols states: “These are dangerous times. Never have so many people had access to so much knowledge , and yet been so resistant to learning anything.”

“That reminded me of Malcolm Gladwell’s book from a decade ago (2008) that dealt with becoming an expert. In “Outliers: The Story of Success,” Gladwell noted that innate talent is critical, but it also takes 10,000 hours of doing something (practicing) to actually become an expert. That’s 10,000 hours to become an expert in a sport or performance art, or as a writer or artist, or working as a surgeon, carpenter, therapist, chef, or accountant.

Is there a middle ground between these two books? How does someone actually become an expert? How do you remain expert? (Remember that old saying—What you don’t use, you lose?)

What about your own expertise? Are you expert at anything? Are you working at becoming an expert? Can you become one?

As an exercise, take a sheet of paper. In one column, list the ten things in which you think you have the most expertise. If you feel you are actually an expert in an area, put a star beside that skill. In the second column, make a list of the ten things at which you actually want to become expert.

In the first column, for example, you may have listed speaking a second language. Perhaps you grew up in a bilingual family, and/or you studied a language for four years in high school and four years in college. Or you have been hiking since you were seven and have 20 years of experience of being in the woods. Perhaps, after a decade of lessons, you are pretty good at playing an instrument. Or you have earned a license or certification in some area that has required thousands of hours of supervised experience. Depending on your age, you probably have good computer skills. You may, or may not, be an excellent driver.

Which of these skills do you expect to keep current, and how will you do that? Will you engage in continuous practice or refresher courses, or using that skill on a daily, or, at least, regular basis.

In column two, how do you plan on becoming an expert in your selected areas? You may want to try skydiving, but how many jumps would it take to become expert?

Analyze both lists carefully and narrow each to five. Decide which remains and what should be crossed off. Then determine your plan for how to keep or increase the expertise you have now, and for how you will build expertise in the desired areas. Remember how long 10,000 hours really is. If you do something for 8 hours per day, it would still take you almost four years to become an expert in that activity or area.

It is a positive thing to have wide-ranging interests, It makes you a more interesting person. It may also help you think more broadly and be more creative in your problem-solving. Being highly successful, however, generally rests on narrower, in-depth expertise, rather than on many broader interests. So, don’t discount the expertise of others, and make certain you aren’t too quick to declare expertise for yourself.

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