How to Become an Expert

a post on Critical Thinking

Disclaimer: I hesitate to call myself an “Expert” unless we’re talking about one of my trivial preoccupations (mid-90s comic book prices, tycoon-era American History, or other frumpiness). If you’re looking for an Expert on Expertise: keep surfing.

14/02/2011 · Plano, TX · I have been aspiring to be an expert for just under 30 years now, creeping ever forward with each bit of knowledge and experience. “Experts” are people with efficient answers and deep explanations. Malcolm Gladwell calls them “mavens” in the The Tipping Point, and correctly observes that one cannot just amass an expertise – a maven must compulsively share.

The following are my three rules on how to become an expert at anything. They have been culled from years of reading and working with experts in various fields (a perk of being a designer), and so far they’ve kept me on course.

Rule #1: Read Your Hero’s Heroes

The first word here is key: Read. Reading is the most crucial tool of any expert. Make time for it every day.

To start, read what interests you in your new field and pay attention to the authors. Find the ones you truly learn from, then track down their sources and read those. Continue this process and you will steadily move closer to the irrefutable truths of whatever it is you want to master.

Be ruthless about your time, though. If you aren’t learning, put the book down / close the tab / move on. You’ll look around eventually and see that your peers are thinning out as you move to the front. Experts should be comfortable in sparse company.

Rule #2: Don’t Just Explore, Conquistador

As you read, put your knowledge to the test and never be content with merely keeping up. Don’t just learn new things, conquer them. Do not move on until this new knowledge feels old hat, and do not put any impetus on this time to produce anything. Practice is another essential tool of expertise.

According to K. Anders Ericsson – the world’s foremost expert on experts – it takes 10,000 hours or 10 years of experience to become an expert at anything. I am not so sure that the task must be so daunting, but Ericsson does have 918 pages published by Cambridge University to back it up. Either way, the time needed for mastery may feel like a lapse in progress, but don’t skip ahead. You’re pushing your knowledge out and building a broader foundation on which to continue stacking more knowledge. You are gaining experience, and it will buttress your newly acquired expertise allowing for solid retention and confident recollection.

Rule #3: Share

Analyzing and reiterating what you have learned also aids retention and will further push you out in front of your contemporaries. You’re not considered an expert if no one is listening to you. By sharing your insights, you will be tested, refuted and ultimately strengthened.

We live in an age of expansive information where anyone can pull up an impressive set of resources while waiting for a train. Experts are our shepherds, and it has never been easier to develop an expertise. Pursue this title and you will soon find yourself the focal point of a room full of expectant minds, ready for you to lead them to the next imperative pasture.

Yes, Even You Can Do It

Quoting Mr. Ericsson:

“The traditional assumption is that people come into a professional domain, have similar experiences, and the only thing that's different is their innate abilities. There's little evidence to support this. With the exception of some sports, no characteristic of the brain or body constrains an individual from reaching an expert level.” – Full Article

So there go your excuses; it’s only a matter of motivation now.

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