To become a master takes time, but it’s not nearly as hard as you think. Unsurprisingly there are many opinions about what it means to be an expert.
My friend Ben Kaplan says that to be an expert you only need three datapoints. Can you prove you’ve done something three times succesfully? Congratulations, you’re an expert!
This blog post is part of a Startup Edition series on how to become an expert in your craft.
10,000 hours to mastery
The 10,000 hours theory espoused by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers suggests that anyone willing to dedicate 10,000 hours to practicing, thinking about and refining their craft can become a master, irregardless of natural ability.
Accelerated proficiency is the school of thought that says you can achieve 80 percent mastery of any concept within two weeks. Boil down a skill to its key concepts and it becomes easy to see how they operate together. Tim Ferriss of Four Hour Workweek fame has demonstrated accelerated proficiency to learn Argentine Tango, to win a Sumo wresting tournaments, and become a chef.
Three months ago I was not an expert on wearable technology, but I was invited to travel to Singapore to speak on the topic. I had to learn quick. I sought out the most established experts I could, interviewed them, and read all that was available on the subject. I still don’t know more about wearable technology than the true experts, but I would be comfortable standing in front of any room sharing my knowledge.
The two dimensions of mastery
There are two important aspects of mastery: internal and external. To believe in yourself as a master, and to be treated as one are quite different matters.
Many people second-guess their own mastery when they make unfair comparisons to once-in-a-generation geniuses. There’s only one Leonardo da Vinci per era, but just because you’re not him doesn’t mean you don’t know your stuff better than 99.95 percent of people. And that’s more than enough.
People will believe you once you start believing in yourself, sometimes even before you do, because you possess knowledge that is valuable and in-demand. Therefor external mastery is simply the ability to demonstrate that you know what you’re talking about.
The three tools of an instant expert
Whether you take the fast or slow path to mastery, there are universally recognized platforms for demonstrating subject matter expertise. Until recently you needed to publish a book, hold a professorship or publish your thoughts in a recognized journal to be an expert. Today expertise has been democratized by the following three tools.
Twitter allows you to sharpen your subject matter expertise by listening to the latest conversations about your industry in real-time. Make friends with the hashtag, I like to say.
Use Twitter to monitor and study key phrases, industry jargon, and major players that impact your business or your field of interest. Whether you use a social media dashboard like Tweetdeck, or you interact with Twitter through its web or mobile interface, expertise means staying on top of the trends that matter. Become a master by studying what other masters have to say.
Listening is key to gaining new knowledge, but expertise also requires sharing original thought. Your blog should be your central platform for knowledge sharing.
Demonstrating thought leadership is essential to stand out from the crowd. A corporate blog allows you to sift through the many conversations happening around your area of expertise, and clearly define your own opinion. Whether you choose to advance a discussion in progress or take a contrarian viewpoint, your corporate blog is where you demonstrate your unique knowledge, share insight and get to practice your communication skills.
A podcast or its equivalent is essential to true mastery of a subject because there are high barriers to entry. While penetrating the media/academia filter used to be a prerequisite for expert recognition, a blog is just the start. A podcast takes longer to produce and requires dedication that most people are not willing to invest. But once you’ve crossed this hurdle there are many, many upsides.
A live interview format allows you to practice public speaking, and develop spontaneity, that will serve you in board meetings, sales presentations, or if you’re presenting at a conference.
On my podcast I’ve been able to interview people whom I admire, and learn from their experience. An interview format allows me to ask questions I ordinarily never ask friends or peers, because I’m asking on behalf of an audience. Or at least that’s the idea.
The process of mastery is ongoing. There will always be new information to learn, new techniques and new tools that can help you do what you do better. If you care about something, you owe it to yourself and those around you to share what you know.
Noble Prize-winning economists, cancer researchers and astrophysicists regularly attend conferences and professional development seminars because they need to expand their knowledge base. What isn’t growing is dying, as they say.
Do you think you know more about programming than someone who wrote a disertation on the subject? Probably not. But even she had a thesis adviser. Expertise is fluid. Stop selling yourself short. Own your mastery and share it with the world.
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