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.

My Name is Gavin Heaton and I am a Social Media Charlatan

oddgh Much is made of “expertise”. Take a look at various TV shows, websites, blogs, and even LinkedIn profiles and you will see the word “expert” bandied about. When you pre-fix this with the words “social media” and you can end up with a potent mix. LinkedIn, alone, ponies up over 50 pages of “social media experts” within my own network — so it would appear that social media expertise is far from a rare skill.

The reality is, in my view, somewhat different.

We are living in a time where the acquisition of knowledge is occurring at ever increasing speed. Thanks to search engines like Google and to personal knowledge networks like Twitter, we can all find, relatively quickly a preliminary answer to the trickiest of problems. For example, if I want to know how to write a social media release, I will find good quality links to Todd Defren, Lee Hopkins, a case study by Geoff Livingston and even a webinar by Des Walsh. I could also comb back through my own bookmarks (or those of others), or I could reach out to my personal knowledge network (aka Twitter) — or just enlist the charming Connie Reece.

None of this makes me an expert.

I could repeat the same process with a different challenge — say managing an online community. There would be new names, great insight and plenty of links. But again, this does not an expert make.

Because while I have searched through all these links, spent hours reading and analysing and determining a plan for action, the world has changed. There are new services, new offerings and new approaches being launched. There are new web applications unveiling themselves. And it all happens in what seems like a matter of hours. Sites come and go, find favour and fail … within incredibly short time frames. The flux seems never ending.

How then can I, in all honesty, advise clients/companies/anyone about “social media”?

What I do have is experience, access to people who are way smarter than me, an openness to learning new things and an ability to bear a certain amount of risk. I try before I buy. Oh, and I have failed, and even embarrassed myself.

I claim no expertise in social media … I am continually learning too much (and working on shifting ground) to consider myself anything other than a charlatan. And I have taken the words of Connie Reece to heart — “If someone tells you they are a social media expert, run”.

Expert Spotting

expert spotting
Originally uploaded by pbo31

I am constantly amazed by the number of experts who are available to discuss blogging, new media, social networking and that strange and untamable beast, the Internet. They are wheeled out across the mainstream media channels to provide some insight or a "POV" on where all this technology is leading "us". Yet it is unclear exactly who "us" and where the insight comes from. So from now on, I am on the lookout for social media/blogging experts — if you find one, please comment or email me and let me know so I can add them to my list.

The inaugural expert I would like to introduce you to is Australian and has written this piece in the Sydney Morning Herald, talking about the "Lost Art of Blogging". In the article, Graeme Philipson laments that out of the Top 25,000 blogs (9,000 of which are in English), only 75 blogs originate in Australia. Various reasons are provided for the poor showing including the following insight by Ross Dawson:

… one key reason is lack of bandwidth in Australia, and of its high cost

Now I know that Ross Dawson has a blog so that is at least a start — and from the look of his archive, he has been at it far longer than I. But to link low uptake of blogging to bandwidth seems ludicrous. Bloggers would or perhaps should know that blogging is a low bandwidth activity — unless you start to embed YouTube videos and so on. It certainly has not been an impediment to the very successful Mack Collier.

But the last word on blogging expertise rests with Graeme, who says:

I don’t blog. Can’t see the point, when I write this column and others. I also rarely read them – the letters page of this newspaper and the many emails I receive is for me more than enough exposure to the unfiltered opinion of the common man.

Enough said.

Update: David Koopmans follows up with this post … AND Chris Newlan explains that bloggers may be bad for the newspaper business!