Are You an Expert…on Anything?

I recently started a series on this blog where I post infographics of ideas that I’ve conceived but not pursued. Here’s another one:

A few days after I created this, my friend Bryce sent me an e-mail about the value of being an expert.

“Would you consider yourself an expert…on anything?” he asked. “Is it possible to inherently be an expert on something? Is it important to be an expert?”

I replied to Bryce:

I almost wrote a post about this a while back, because the trend in personal branding right now is to be an “expert” in something. I specifically thought about this back when I heard Bob Costas talk, because he and Bill James and the other guys on the “future of sports” panel knew SO much about sports. Like, you might think that you’re an “expert” on the Atlanta Braves or Virginia Tech. But compared to those guys, you hardly know anything. It’s incredible how much of their brains are devoted to that one subject. Like, anyone can advertise themselves as and “expert”–I could say that I’m an “expert” at running a church or Japan or adoption or blogging, but that’s just not true. I know more about those subjects than the average person. But that doesn’t make me an expert.

So the question is, can you simply make yourself an expert in something? Can I simply decide to be an expert on whether or not websites exist?

Lots of questions, but if you answer one in the comments today, let it be this: What is one thing in which you are truly an expert?

8 thoughts on “Are You an Expert…on Anything?”

  1. I believe there’s a rule (after five minutes of searching, I couldn’t locate it, because I’m no expert at google) that says you must spend 3 full years working on something before you become truly capable. It might also be 3000, or 300 hours. There’s definitely a 3 involved.

    Any variation of that rule would make me an expert on what I studied in school (And Gilmore Girls), hence our education system. But, in theory, we only distinguish ourselves from others in college (or long years of practice in the workforce), and nowadays that’s almost moot. I do wonder how helpful intensely focused expertise is. Is it scratching an obsessive itch? Or do we make ourselves, as individuals invaluable: irreplaceable, secure in our life’s work? In such cases, it’s as if we’re trying to eliminate the rule “two heads are better than one” in favor of “my head is the best, and only, head”.

    Either way, I don’t think it’s a truly functional title, because the more broad the subject- the more “experts” will exist who are similarly capable. Whereas, the more specific our expertise becomes, the less call there is for that particular knowledge.

    • I haven’t heard the “3” formula, but I’m heard the 10,000 hours theory that you need to clock that much time doing something before you’re truly brilliant at it.

      I think that a lot of people try to make themselves irreplaceable. The advice I often hear is to specialize in something. But I think there’s a difference between declaring yourself an expert and actually being one. Where do you draw the line? Who gets to draw that line? And like you say, can’t hordes of experts crop up with the same specialty?

      In the end, I think the ones will will succeed at being experts are those who are not only truly knowledgeable in their field of expertise, but can also communicate that knowledge really well. For example, Ariel, you mention that if you have a PhD, you are an expert in that field. That makes sense to me. But the only experts in that field that people will seek out are those who are able to convey their research to those who care.

      • “I think that a lot of people try to make themselves irreplaceable. The advice I often hear is to specialize in something.”

        It always surprises me when people think an English degree is ‘useless’. I think that it’s actually opened a lot more doors for me than another degree could. But I can’t say I’m an “expert” at English as a subject of study. It’s too broad.

        I think that making yourself irreplaceable has less to do with you being an expert, and more to do with:
        1) Knowing what you do sufficiently enough to do it well consistently
        2) Being better at what you do than everyone else in the office
        3) Being a likable coworker.

        I know for a fact that I deliver at my job because we keep winning proposals (which I find, write, edit, and manage), so I have #1 under control. Whenever something needs to be “written well” or “rewritten” or “edited so it’s right”, it gets sent to me (regardless of it having anything to do with my actual job). So, I think I have #2 under control as well. And hopefully I have #3 under control…but I guess we never truly know if people find us likable. People are nice to me though, so that must count for something.

        Hooray for Gilmore Girls! 😀

        • So, upon reread of my comment, I’m going to say that perhaps no one is an expert at large, but only can be a situational expert. Meaning, “She’s the office expert at grammar.” or “He’s the office expert at JQuery.”

        • I like those rules for making yourself irreplaceable. Makes sense to me.

          I’ve heard that writing winning proposals has just as much to do with the relationships you form with those reviewing the proposals as it does writing ability. Do you find that to be true?

          • I don’t make the relationships, someone else in Sales does. But, I’d say just like any hiring process, if you feel comfortable with the people you’d be working with, then you’re more likely to hire them. However, most proposals are solely based on price–some are based on this by law.

            But thanks for dissing on my awesome proposal writing skills 😉

  2. By convention, a PhD, on the day of his or her defense is an expert in his or her area of research.

    Corny answer: we are all experts at being ourselves.


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