Starting to be an Expert

Beautiful girl reads bookMalcolm Gladwell has suggested that it takes 10,000 hours of dedication to become an expert. But what exactly is “an expert”? Some definitions suggest that it is to do with specialist skill or knowledge; while others indicate that expertise can only be arrived at through practising (ie doing).

Regardless of whether expertise is achieved through research, thinking or “doing”, there is no doubt that reading plays a major part in the claim to expertise. Of course, one must also be able to communicate what you learned from reading, but think about it – how many books would you read a year? And how many blogs? How much of books and blogs (and for that matter, other sources of knowledge such as podcasts, ebooks, youtube videos etc) contribute to your understanding of your specialist skill? How do you translate it to your professional life – or the practise of your passion?

In 2007, a Washington Post survey indicated that the average American read four books a year. So what happens when you increase your quota of learning? What happens if you read one book a month – or 12 books a year. In five years, the average American will have read 20 books, and you will have read 60.

And according to the Pew Internet Study (July 2008), only 24% of American adults read blogs (only 11% read blogs daily). But I wonder how many blogs does this cover? One? One hundred? Maybe it doesn’t matter. Again, what would happen if you increased your consumption of blogs? If you read blogs, you are already consuming more knowledge (or perhaps gossip, cooking tips, renovation ideas etc) than almost 90% of Americans. But what would happen if you double your effort? What if you also WROTE? Or SHARED? Or REINTERPRETED?

While the figures are interesting, the real point about expertise is that it requires effort. No matter whether you are an expert at ADVISING or DOING or even KNOWING a particular topic, you don’t get anywhere without LEARNING first – and may I add, learning CONTINUOUSLY.

I constantly read books and blogs. I consume all manner of media, but I am drawn to the type of knowledge that I can deploy as a SERVICE to others. And at the moment I am reading or re-reading some outstanding books. I have tagged them using I would encourage you to check them out. But for something a little more immediately gratifying, take a spin through my blogroll – it’s all A-grade quality thinking.

11 thoughts on “Starting to be an Expert

  1. I completely agree. You must always be learning and keeping up with your area of “expertise” or you will quickly be surpassed by others who do. There is so much information available to us out there but we must activly seek it out in order for it to benefit us anything.

  2. I wonder about retention though. With all the information we are bombarded with on a daily basis, how much can we actually retain? If the average person reads X amount of books and blogs per year, and you read 2x the amount, I wonder how much difference there is once retention is factored in?

  3. Of course, we can actively cultivate networks that can also filter this sea of information for us. That is where social media can really deliver outstanding value for us – whether individually or corporately.

  4. Mark … as commented above, this is where filtering can become useful (not to mention social bookmarking etc). We no longer need to retain “loose” knowledge – we just need to maintain loose networks of smart people. It’s not what you know, but who you know – and who you connect to 😉

  5. I read the 10,000 hours are needed to be considered an ‘expert’ and wondered roughly how long it would take before you could be considered an expert. If you read/studied 8 hours per day every day, it would take nearly 4 years, unless you are like in prison or something you can’t devote that much time to becoming
    an expert so on average it would take more than 4 years. WOW. How many people are out there running around calling themselves expert without having put in the time.
    I agree, reading is essential, books, blogs, newspaper; reading just about anything can enrich your life, give you perspective and added dimension.

  6. I believe expertise is a journey not a destination. While I certainly believe experts exist, I’m always wary of anyone who refers to themselves as an expert – usually anyone who feels the need to call themselves an expert, isn’t.

  7. Interesting post, especially given all the discussion about expertise in social media right about now.
    People who’ve studied expert performance versus average performance put the differences down to many things, including extended, structured practice (experts have put a lot of time in, but they’ve used that time strategically) and meta skills (for example, being aware of their knowledge limitations or using certain strategies).
    Personally, I think it’s the reinterpretation and consolidation that makes all the difference – it’s one thing to read lots and quite another to try to apply it. Hmm, food for thought!

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