Developing In-Depth Knowledge
From the doctors who look after our health to successful engineers and effective leaders, expertise is all around us. Many of us have some level of expertise – we couldn't do our jobs if we didn't! But how many of us can say that we're genuine experts in a given area?
Essentially, an expert is someone who is recognized as being an authority on a particular subject, or as having mastered a particular technique or skill. Experts achieve expert status through extensive education; through intensive research; or through prolonged, deliberate practice.
In this article, we'll examine the benefits of becoming an expert, and we'll look at how to build expertise.
Why Build Expertise?
There are many benefits to being an expert in a particular field.
For instance, you'll be the go-to person when someone else needs help or advice. Your expert status can open doors to interesting work assignments; and it can lead to job promotions, speaking invitations, publishing opportunities, and a great reputation.
Being an expert in your field can also add purpose to your work, because you're in a position to help others in a really significant way. Whether it's a colleague who's stuck on a problem, or an entire industry that's floundering, your expertise can help others to overcome a challenge, and be more successful than they could otherwise be. This can be very rewarding!
Expertise also gives you expert power. This comes from the respect that team members have for your knowledge and judgment, and it means that they value your leadership. This respect and trust makes it easier to inspire your people, and to get everyone on board with new projects and ideas. Teams are more productive when they're working under a leader whose views they respect.
With expert knowledge, you'll also be more innovative in what you do, because you'll be able to spot opportunities. This can further enhance your success, and attract the material rewards that come with it.
How to Build Expertise
There are three steps that you need to take to build expertise. These are:
- Choosing your area of expertise.
- Making time to become an expert.
- Identifying the right opportunities and resources to build your expertise, and then using them.
1. Choose an Area to Develop
No matter what your career, chances are that you have a deep pool of skills that you use daily. So how do you decide which skills to develop?
Start by looking at the work that you're doing. What subject already interests you? Choose an area that you're passionate about. This will motivate you far more than studying a skill that you don't care about, or that you find difficult to master.
Next, look at the skills that your industry considers important. Do these interest you? Are there areas that are highly-valued, that you're already proficient in, and that you could develop further?
Also, look for knowledge gaps in your organization: areas that are under-served have the potential to make the biggest difference. So, don't overlook knowledge that your organization doesn't yet know that it needs.
If you work with clients, what skills or techniques do they value? How could a particular area of expertise help them succeed?
The trick to choosing an area of expertise is to focus on a niche. You need to be able to master your subject, so the broader the field you choose, the harder it will be to do this.
For instance, you might be tempted to become a programming expert. But programming is a diverse and complicated field. Instead, choose one programming language, like Java, or one type of software, such as Photoshop, and focus exclusively on that.
Keep in mind that building expertise takes time, but if you choose an area that you're familiar with, you'll have put some of this effort in already. This does take hard work and persistence: if being an expert was easy, then everyone would be an expert!
2. Scheduling Time
Next, it's important to make time to work on building your expertise.
For instance, you could focus on practicing or learning more about your chosen topic during your lunch break, or during your commute to and from work. Or, you could devote time to building expertise in the early mornings or evenings, or at the weekend.
It's important to make a commitment to put aside time regularly to build on your knowledge. A good way of doing this is to make building expertise part of personal goal setting.
You can take this further by crafting what you ultimately want to accomplish (and why) into a Personal Mission Statement. Using this will help you avoid distractions, and will keep you on track if you are discouraged along the way.
If you already have a full schedule, read our article on Creating More Time in Your Day so that you can free up the time you need to build expertise.
3. Build Your Knowledge
Once you've picked a particular field, skill, or technique to develop, and you have committed to spending time working to become an expert, it's time to start building your expertise:
- Gather information about your chosen field. Find out everything you can about what you need to do to become an expert (and what it will take for others to see you as an expert). For instance, will you need a specific degree or certification? What credentials do other experts in your field have? And what credentials should you have for others to see you as a natural expert, rather than as a "wannabe"?
- Take classes. You might not need to go as far as getting a degree, but formal classes can help you understand a difficult subject. Your employer may be willing to reimburse you for this training.
- Actively seek out challenging assignments that will test your skills. Even if you make a mistake, you'll still learn valuable lessons, and be the better for the experience.
- Join a local association. Industry-focused groups are often full of knowledgeable professionals, who have years of experience. You never know what you'll learn, or what connections you'll make, by joining one of these groups.
- Use social networking sites like LinkedIn and Twitter to connect with other experts in your field. They can share advice and tips that will help grow your knowledge base. They can also recommend learning opportunities that you might otherwise miss. (LinkedIn also has a useful featured, called LinkedIn Groups. These are groups of professionals who connect around a specific industry. Joining a group specific to your industry or skill is a great way to share information with other experts.)
- Find a mentor. Mentors can provide a wealth of knowledge because they've already gone down the path that you're on. They can share their hard-won expertise, and teach knowledge that often can't be found through theory alone. They can also broaden your network, and connect you with other experts, whose doors would have remained closed without a personal introduction.
- Try to attend any relevant conferences. These not only allow you to learn cutting edge information about your industry, but you can also make valuable contacts, who may be able to help you move towards your goals.
- Make an effort to keep-up-to-date with news and trends in your industry.
It's easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of knowledge you need to learn. If you do feel overwhelmed, use a tool like an Action Program to manage the actions you need to take to achieve your goal. By breaking a big objective down into bite-sized steps, you'll make it less intimidating.
The Expertise Trap
Some experts believe that their current knowledge and skill set will allow them to succeed in any similar task. However, this is a common "expertise trap."
For instance, imagine that you've just been promoted to a new leadership role. You assume that the approaches that you used in your last role will work just as well now, so you apply them to every situation, without giving this much thought. Quickly, your projects slow down as problems begin to appear... seemingly from out of nowhere.
The knowledge and skills that have made you successful in the past won't always be the right ones needed to solve future problems. Experts have to continue to learn, and must always be open to new possibilities.
So, don't use your expertise as a crutch when you move forward. Have the humility to realize that you don't know everything, and to keep your mind open to new ideas..
An expert is someone who, through dedicated study and application, is widely recognized to be an authority on a given topic, skill or technique.
Being an expert has many benefits – it can lead to publishing or media appearances, enhance your reputation, and allow you to help others. It also helps you develop expert power, and can lead to promotions and high profile assignments; with the material rewards that naturally come with these.
To build expertise, set aside time in your schedule to work daily on your chosen subject. Join trade organizations, find a mentor, take classes and study on your own. The more you can learn and, most importantly, apply your new information, the more your expertise will develop.