How To Become An Expert

By Dr. Mani
17 Comments

Everyone wants to be an expert. Nothing wrong with that.

The problem is that many want to become an expert overnight!

Now that may be possible in very narrowly defined niches, but even there the desirability of such ‘expertise’ is in question. We all know and respect experts as having had long, immersive and intense knowledge and experience with a particular subject or skill. Indeed that’s the reason we look up to them.

Lately I’ve been noticing a flurry to create the ‘impression’ of being an expert – by writing a book, by building a brand, by giving talks and presentations – which is hard to understand or explain.

True, the authority symbols of being a published author or keynote speaker or syndicated columnist are helpful in enhancing the expert status you attain – but on their own, these things don’t make you an expert.

There’s a lot going on behind the scenes before you can appear on your stage wearing ‘expert status’ as the crown on your head. Let’s talk about it.

Why Be An Expert?

There are many good reasons why expert status is coveted. Here are some:

Expertise will always be desirable, and that’s a good reason to want to become an expert. But before you embark on your quest, you must understand a few nuances about expertise itself.

Expertise Is Relative

You could have a year’s experience at repairing roofs or painting buildings or growing roses. You would be considered an expert at a gathering of novice handymen or apprentice painters or amateur gardeners.

But with the exact same level of experience, if you walked into a national roofing convention, or attended an industrial meeting for painting contractors, or even a tea party with serious gardeners who have been at their hobby for decades, you would be looked upon as a ‘newbie’ or ‘beginner’.

Expertise, at any level, is relative. You know more than some. And you know less than others.

Expertise Is Achievable

The biggest myth of all is that expertise is reserved for a select few – and is unattainable for others. Not true. Everyone can be an expert. Yes, that includes you!

There are a few advantages that will carry you to expert status quicker or more easily. But there are hardly any obstacles that will completely prevent you from becoming an expert.

Before reading Adam J. Jackson’s amazing book “The Flip Side“, I used to think that there were certain physical, emotional and psychological factors that would keep one from achieving expertise in specific fields. But after hearing about the one-armed baseball pitcher for major leagues, and the blind man who mastered martial arts combat, I realize that every obstacle can be surmounted.

So realize that you can be an expert at anything you want – if you’re willing to take the steps that are necessary. What are they? We’ll talk about them next.

The 10,000 Hour Expert

As I did some research for this article, I traced the source for a powerful concept back to Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “Outliers“. In it, Gladwell has stated (with a lot of evidence to support the argument) that it takes 10,000 hours of involvement and practice to become an expert at something.

This means that to become expert at cooking, you should spend 10,000 hours on it. Or to be a top class writer, you must practice for 10,000 hours. Ditto for being a good musician or sportsman or to master any other skill.

Roughly, this translates into a period of ten to twenty years of practice in order to rightfully claim the label of “expert”. If you spend two hours a day, five days a week, then in a year you’ll invest 500 hours into your field… which will get you to expert status in TWENTY YEARS!

Too long to wait? Well, it gets even more intriguing.

Become Expert Through Intentional Practice

It isn’t enough to simply “be involved” in something for 10,000 hours to be considered an expert. If that was the case, you’d be an expert at things just by passively being engaged in them for the required period of time.

To become an expert it requires one more essential. Intentional practice.

What’s that?

Take golfing as an example. If you spent two hours daily hitting a golf ball on a course, you won’t magically turn into a Tiger Woods after 5, 10 or even 20 years. That would take “intentional practice”.

Intentional practice would mean…

Ask any sportsperson, like a basketball player, how many times they practice their shots or dunks or dribbles.

Ask any professional writer how many drafts they polish before the finished piece is ready.

Ask any medical doctor how many procedures they perform under supervision before being set free to treat patients on their own.

They all apply “intentional practice” for a sufficiently long period of time before attaining expert status. In contrast, those who mark time at a desk, waiting out their period until the system automatically promotes them to a higher post, continue to remain non-experts – regardless of the position they reach in an organization.

Expertise And Individuality

So will everyone take ten years to become an expert?

Of course not. That’s where the magical wonder of individual competence, determination and passion come in. Tony Robbins, the famous motivational speaker, talks about how he took on three or four speaking engagements in a day… at a time where his contemporaries were doing no more than one every week.

He compressed his “10 year” learning experience into barely 12 months – and that put him on the fast track to becoming an expert.

After I completed my specialty training in cardiac surgery, I wanted to gain as much exposure to coronary bypass surgery as possible – and joined a busy hospital unit, participating in as many as four operations every day. In just three months, I could honestly put on my resume the fact that I had been involved in over 200 CABG operations.

How quickly you become an expert depends upon how hard you’re willing to work at it, how able you are to acquire the knowledge and facility required, how determined you are to succeed… and how passionate you are about what you’re learning.

Passion And Expertise

If there’s one thing clear about becoming an expert, it’s this… Expertise takes time and effort to acquire.

“Instant expert” is a myth. Lasting, true and widely-acknowledged expertise comes only after long and intense learning, training and intentional practice. Wikipedia describes an expert as:

“… someone widely recognized as a reliable source of technique or skill whose faculty for judging or deciding rightly, justly, or wisely is accorded authority and status by their peers or the public in a specific well-distinguished domain. An expert, more generally, is a person with extensive knowledge or ability based on research, experience, or occupation and in a particular area of study.”

So how does passion enter this picture?

It helps you stay the course. When you’re passionate about something, you don’t want to give up on it.

It helps you enjoy the process. When you’re engaged in ‘passion work’, it feels like you’re always having fun.

It speeds up the time needed to succeed. When you’re learning stuff related to your passion, it happens faster and easier.

No, star athletes don’t particularly enjoy the act of waking up early every morning and jogging through cold, wet streets to train, or giving up their social life to practice on the court, or stick to rigid schedules while training. But they do it because they are passionate about their sport.

No, trainee doctors don’t relish the idea of spending their youth in stuffy hospital wards in close proximity to sickness and sometimes death. They do it because of their passion to heal and cure others.

No, amateur writers don’t enjoy staring at a blank word-processor screen, or crumpling up sheets of paper, or agonizing for hours over that perfect turn of phrase or the ideal choice of word. They do it because of their passion for putting thoughts and dreams into words.

Passion fuels expertise, which in turn keeps passion burning.

So on your quest to become an expert, choose whatever you’re passionate about and then put in the hard work that’s a pre-requisite to becoming a real expert – and only after that, focus your attention on the adornments and tools that showcase that expertise to the world… your book and your blog, your branding and your presentations.

And to help you decide if you really do want to be an expert, I’ll leave you with this joke:

“A specialist is someone who knows more and more about less and less until he eventually knows everything about nothing!”
:-)

Dr. Mani

About Dr. Mani

Dr.Mani is actively engaged in spreading awareness about congenital heart disease (CHD) and fundraising to sponsor heart surgery for under-privileged children in India.

An ardent group of volunteers and donors have embraced this noble purpose that is bigger than any individual or group, and grown it into a global movement that has touched and saved the lives of 87 little children. You can help too. Learn how at http://www.DrMani.com

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17 Comments

  • What a fantastic thought provoking article! Some great points about what makes an expert.

    I sew, and even though I’ve been doing it for years – I am constantly learning new things, making mistakes, growing and developing my craft. It’s only recently through sharing tutorials on my blog and the positive reactions I’ve had, that I realise how much I’ve progressed. I still don’t think I’m anywhere near expert but do want to be.

    You make a great point about developing your skill to a high level before promoting it. I was very unsure when I put out my first tutorial as to whether or not I was good enough to teach others. I had a fear that because I didn’t know EVERYTHING about sewing, that maybe I couldn’t teach ANYTHING.

    I may not be an expert sewer in my own opinion, but I now feel that I am ‘expert’ enough at the basics to be able to teach those to beginners. As I learn and grow in my skill, so will the subject matter I teach and pass on to others.

    Even if someone reaches what may be considered to be ‘expert’ level at something, I believe there will always be more to learn and room to grow.

    Someone I used to work with when I was a teacher once said to me,

    “The day you stop learning is the day you should stop teaching.”

    This has always stuck in my mind and I think it is very true!

    Thanks for sharing another inspirational post Dr.Mani!

    Jill @ Creating my way to Success
    http://www.jembellish.blogspot.com/

  • I too have seen many people seeking to become an expert overnight. Patience is what we need for this.
    Very well explained. Thanks Dr.Mani!

    • Exactly! This reminds me of a quote by Earl Nightingale:

      “One hour per day of study will put you at the top of your field within three years. Within five years you’ll be a national authority. In seven years, you can be one of the best people in the world at what you do.”

      I read books like a crazy person, and as much as I read, there is no way to become an expert in anything over night…especially considering that most people do not like to read. Hah

  • Great article here – I think the desire to become an expert and to differentiate has risen and risen over recent years – but what is an expert – is it someone who is just a few steps ahead or someone who is really so expert that their material is almost incomprehensible to the majority of us?

    All the very best with your project!

    Cathy

  • Very well explained Dr. Mani! I too was seeking how to be an expert in my field, but still too far from reality. Thanks for this inspiring article!

  • Awesome Dr Mani, I have been a fan of several people online teaching how to become experts but you have laid it all out nicely for me to understand and implement. Thanks again!

  • By lots of practice in particular field make an expert. :)

  • I’ve been working in sports management for the last 13 years now, and your comparisons with athletes are very on point.
    Tony Robbins talks about CANI : Constant And Never-ending Improvement….that’s the way of becoming an expert.

  • Great article post by Dr Mani.He describe brilliantly here,how to be an expert.Really a educative and informative post, the post is good in all regards,I am glad to read this post I am also new here and i am still in the process of learning things in this site. Thanks for this.

  • Dr. Mani – I too believe that everyone can be an expert! It’s just a matter of finding your expertise and honing in on that – not trying to be a “jack of all trades” type of persona who just tries to be good at everything and then in fact masters nothing – thanks for the article, these are some great tips.

    Laurie

  • No wonder you are an expert. :) Thanks Dr. Mani!

  • Hi Dr. Mani,

    I couldn’t help nodding my head as I read through your article. That part about expert being relative definitely explains why there are so many “experts” online today!

    But frankly, this is an article I will want to reference any day any time. As much as I cannot claim to be an expert right now but what I’m doing on my blog has been of great help to many that tagging myself an expert is something they will readily agree with.

    10,000 hours before claiming the title of an expert? I think I’ll agree with that also. I definitely must have done close to that! With over 7yrs online and with about 6 hrs daily there is much to offer.

    Your article is a motivation to carry on and I thank you for it!

  • Hi Dr Mani,

    I love this line …..

    “put in the hard work that’s a pre-requisite to becoming a real expert – and only after that, focus your attention on the adornments and tools that showcase that expertise to the world”

    A reminder for many of us who want to be known as experts overnight. :)

  • Well I don’t agree with the 10000 hours rule as there are many people who use the same technics on their field for 20+ years without evolving and think that they are experts just because they are doing the same thing for 20+ years and laugh to anyone who tries anything new

  • I would have to say that reading this article has made me believe you are an expert in what you preach. I happen to know many things, but I am not an expert in anything. I tend to tire of my interest well before I reach the 10,000 hour mark, which I suppose is a main reason I am not an expert.

  • Dr Mani,

    This advice is spot on!

    Finding your passion first is one of the steps to make – if you want become an expert on something.

    Also, knowing theory is not enough – experimenting and teaching others is required to gain more expertise.

    Cheers,
    Timo

  • Dan

    I like the part where you say expertise is a relative thing. I stumbled on it when I went to a local association meeting and say they had vendors who would present stuff, so I did that, they gave me 60 seconds. Amazing thing happened, at the end of my little sales pitch, people approached me and started asking questions and after a few meetings I was the local expert, not that I tried to be one, I just wanted to sell my product. Basically I’m not the expert to everyone just a few, that was the big discovery.

    So I asked myself how can I do that online?

    What I found to work pretty good is just make presentation and post it online. Few would see it, but for most who do, I’m the expert just like at the meeting. If you want to see an example check out: http://howtomakepresentations.com

    Some action and bravado is needed to put yourself out there on the line and to criticism, but it’s well worth it (I think). Good luck.

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