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Last Updated on September 16, 2017

How to Be A Genuine Expert in Your Field

How to Be A Genuine Expert in Your Field

In 2015, an eighth grader did some research into the story behind the ‘No Irish Need Apply’ signs that were alleged to have existed in 19th century United States. Despite claims in 2002 from a distinguished historian that the signs were a myth and had never existed, the eighth grader Rebecca Fried was able to prove the historian wrong simply by doing some basic research on Google.  Not only did Fried found photographic evidence of the signs – but she found lots of it.[1]

Just because something is stated by an ‘expert’ doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s true.

Back in 1830, scientific writer Dr. Dionysius Lardner said rail travel at high speed is not possible because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia.  And in 1903, the president of the Michigan Savings Bank advised Henry Ford’s lawyer not to invest in the Ford Motor Co because the horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty – a fad.[2]

There are many more examples like these, and this is why not all experts are as highly regarded as they used to be.

How Society has Raised the Bar for Experts

Until recently, society looked up to and respected all experts and their opinions. However, in our new internet-age, knowledge is available to all at the click of a button.

Previously, years of education, work experience, and formal titles were the ways most people used to recognize experts.  Unfortunately, these are no longer good indicators.  For example, materials studied in the past can now be outdated. And as for those people with extensive work experience, this doesn’t guarantee they operate in an efficient or high-quality way.

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Titles like doctor of ____, or psychologist of ____ are licensed/exams-based, but whether qualifications are up-to-date is open to question.

Judging whether a person is an expert based on the above indicators fails to take into account for the way information and knowledge changes over time. Not all experts will be dedicated enough to keep up with the latest developments in their chosen field.

Traditional experts became experts by taking a lot of time to investigate topics, but nowadays, the internet has massively reduced the time needed to research or learn a topic. You could think of it this way: In the past, experts owned the knowledge, these days this knowledge is freely available on the web.

Clearly, the internet has rapidly shifted information from the hands of those who have it – into the hands of those who do not.[3]

Of course, the development of the internet hasn’t wiped genuine experts of the face of the earth.  We should still respect real experts, especially those who have gone through the stages outlined below.

The Five Stages That All Genuine Experts Must Go Through

The Dreyfus model of skill acquisition lays out five distinct stages that all people must go through on their way to becoming experts.

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    Credit: Dreyfus Model of Learning

    Stage 1: Novice

    • Follows the rules and plans they are taught.
    • Lacks flexibility in handling works and challenges.
    • Doesn’t know how to make judgements based on what they’ve learned.

    Stage 2: Advanced beginner

    • Has more experiences and starts to interpret different situations.
    • Uses the same approach for different situations because they don’t have enough experiences to look deeper at each scenario.

    Stage 3: Competent

    • More holistic in handling problems.
    • Starts to know how to interpret different situations with flexible plans.
    • Starts to formulate their own routines to achieve things.

    Stage 4: Proficient

    • Able to solve problems intuitively.
    • Continuously adjusts their ways and approaches.
    • Perceives deviations from the normal pattern.
    • Gives suggestions and guidance to others based upon their knowledge and experiences.

    Stage 5: Expert

    • Understands the whole picture intuitively with a deep and tacit comprehension.
    • Creates the guidelines, plans and rules for others.
    • Continuously self-tunes and self-learns.
    • Knows how to handle problems that have never happened before based on their knowledge.

    As the stages show, experts don’t need to be child prodigies or intellectual giants. In fact, ordinary people can become experts, provided they are willing to invest the necessary time and effort.

    The Dreyfus model of skill acquisition not only shows how true experts are made – but also reveals what’s missing from fake experts. Let’s take a look at these people now.

    Don’t Be Fooled by ‘Fake Experts’

    Many people who claim they are experts are actually just at stage 2 or stage 3 of the Dreyfus model.

    These people have gained some knowledge and experiences, but they have not embraced the continuous learning and self-tuning process that real experts have. Because of this, when these ‘fake experts’ encounter problems that they’ve never seen before, they fall back on the same approaches and methods that they’ve been taught.

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    However, when it comes to these challenging cases, traditional methods may not work, and so-called experts will be unable to come up with original resolutions. (Unlike genuine experts who have reached stage 5.)

    You now understand what makes a true expert. Read on to find out how to become one.

    The Journey to Become a True Expert

    To become a genuine expert, you must start as a learner and move naturally through each stage. There are several things to pay attention to when you experience each of the stages, and here’s the guide to help you get through each stage efficiently.

    From Novice to Advanced Beginner: Log Your Experiences and Knowledge

    Your step from moving from novice to advanced beginner should involve the development of a personal library of experience. A logbook of experience and knowledge learned should be completed to show your progression. Ask for feedback from your tutor/instructor, and add this information into your logbook. Finally, log your reflections for actions you’ve taken.

    Let’s say that you want to learn how to play guitar, as a budding guitarist, at this stage you’ll be learning more and more chords, scales and techniques. Be sure to note down as much as possible in your logbook, so that you can easily come back to what you’ve learned.

    From Advanced Beginner to Competent: Grab Every Opportunity to Practice Knowledge

    Learning is by participation and interaction with others. Normally, this takes place through the exchange of ideas and opinions. As you move from advanced beginner to becoming competent, you’ll evolve from the acquisition of knowledge to participating in learning. You’re likely to find yourself starting to see beyond the normal situations and beginning to suggest ways to do things based on what you’ve learned.

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    In the guitarist world, this is the stage where you’ll find yourself practicing more – and even starting to experiment with your playing.

    From Competent to Proficient: Reflect, Reflect, Reflect

    This stage will take you the longest because it’s rooted in continuous exposure to different cases and reflections. You’ll learn to look at things from different angles, and suggest different approaches based on what you’ve learned. With continuous reflections and experiences in guiding others to perform, you’ll deepen your knowledge and skills.

    This is the stage where your guitar playing is good enough that you could start to help others to learn and improve.

    From Proficient to Expert: Continuous Learning and Tuning

    A true expert doesn’t stop learning. They continue to look for new methods and approaches for different cases. They also reflect on what they can do better, and keep a close eye on the ever-changing information world. If you’ve reached this stage, but stop learning and reflecting, you’ll eventually fall back to previous stages.

    At this point in time, you’re a genuinely expert guitarist. You’ll be good enough to perform professionally – or to be a top guitar tutor.

    True Experts Don’t Possess Knowledge, They Explore and Share Knowledge

    Due to the impact of the internet, knowledge is no longer exclusively in the hands of qualified experts. However, just because we can now Google information at the tap of a key, this doesn’t mean that we’re all now experts. Genuine experts still need to go through the five stages of skill acquisition.

    Now you know what you need to do to become an expert in your field. Follow the five stages, and work your way up to becoming a true expert.

    Reference

    More by this author

    Leon Ho

    Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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    Forget Learning How to Multitask: Boost Productivity 10X More with Focus

    Forget Learning How to Multitask: Boost Productivity 10X More with Focus

    There’s a dark side to the conveniences of the Digital Age. With smartphones that function like handheld computers, it has become increasingly difficult to leave our work behind. Sometimes it seems like we’re expected to be accessible 24/7.

    How often are you ever focused on just one thing? Most of us try to meet these demands by multi-tasking.

    Many of us have bought into the myth that we can achieve more through multi-tasking. In this article, I’ll show you how you can accomplish more work in less time. Spoiler alert: multi-tasking is not the answer.

    Why is multitasking a myth?

    The term “multi-tasking” was originally used to describe how microprocessors in computers work. Machines multitask, but people cannot.

    Despite our inability to simultaneously perform two tasks at once, many people believe they are excellent multi-taskers.

    You can probably imagine plenty of times when you do several things at once. Maybe you talk on the phone while you’re cooking or respond to emails during your commute.

    Consider the amount of attention that each of these tasks requires. Chances are, at least one of the two tasks in question is simple enough to be carried out on autopilot.

    We’re okay at simultaneously performing simple tasks, but what if you were trying to perform two complex tasks? Can you really work on your presentation and watch a movie at the same time? It can be fun to try to watch TV while you work, but you may be unintentionally making your work more difficult and time-consuming.

    Your brain on multi-tasking

    Your brain wasn’t designed to multi-tasking. To compensate, it will switch from task to task. Your focus turns to whatever task seems more urgent. The other task falls into the background until you realize you’ve been neglecting it.

    When you’re bouncing back and forth like this, an area of the brain known as Broadmann’s Area 10 activates. Located in your fronto-polar prefrontal cortex at the very front of the brain, this area controls your ability to shift focus. People who think they are excellent multitaskers are really just putting Broadmann’s Area 10 to work.

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    But I can juggle multiple tasks!

    You are capable of taking in information with your eyes while doing other things efficiently. Scientifically speaking, making use of your vision is the only thing you can truly do while doing something else.

    For everything else, you’re serial tasking. This constant refocusing can be exhausting, and it prevents us from giving our work the deep attention it deserves.

    Think about how much longer it takes to do something when you have to keep reminding yourself to focus.

    Why multitasking is failing you

    Multitasking does more bad than good to your productivity, here’re 4 reasons why you should stop multitasking:

    Multitasking wastes your time.

    You lose time when you interrupt yourself. People lose an average of 2.1 hours per day getting themselves back on track when they switch between tasks.

    In fact, some studies suggest that doing multiple things at once decreases your productivity by as much as 40%. That’s a significant loss in efficiency. You wouldn’t want your surgeon to be 40% less productive while you’re on the operating table, would you?

    It makes you dumber.

    A distracted brain performs a full 10 IQ points lower than a focused brain. You’ll also be more forgetful, slower at completing tasks, and more likely to make mistakes.

    You’ll have to work harder to fix your mistakes. If you miss an important detail, you could risk injury or fail to complete the task properly.

    This is an emotional response.

    There’s so much data suggesting that multitasking is ineffective but people insist that they can multitask.

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    Feeling productive fulfills an emotional need. We want to feel like we’re accomplishing something. Why accomplish just one item on the to-do list when you can check off two or three?

    It’ll wear you out.

    When you’re jumping from task to task, it can feel invigorating for a little while. Over time, this needs to fill every second with more and more work leads to burn out.

    We’re simply not built to multitask, so when we try, the effect can be exhausting. This destroys your productivity and your motivation.

    How to stop multitasking and work productively

    Flitting back and forth between tasks feels second-nature after a while. This is in part because Broadmann’s Area 10 becomes better at serial tasking through time.

    In addition to changing how the brain works, this serial tasking behavior can quickly turn into a habit.

    Just like any bad habit, you’ll need to recognize that you need to make a change first. Luckily, there are a few simple things you can do to adjust to a lifestyle of productive mono-tasking:

    1. Consciously change gears

    Instead of trying to work on two distinct tasks at once, consider setting up a system to remind you when to change focus. This technique worked for Jerry Linenger, an American astronaut onboard the space station, Mir.

    As an astronaut, he had many things to take care of every day. He set alarms for himself on a few watches. When a particular watch sounded, he knew it was time to switch tasks. This enabled him to be 100% in tune with what he was doing at any given moment.

    This strategy is effective because the alarm served as his reminder for what was to come next. Linenger’s intuition about setting reminders falls in line with research conducted by Paul Burgess of University College, London on multitasking.

    2. Manage multiple tasks without multitasking

    Raj Dash of Performancing.com has an effective strategy for balancing multiple projects without multitasking. He suggests taking 15 minutes to acquaint yourself with a new project before moving on to other work. Revisit the project later and do about thirty minutes on research and brainstorming.

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    Allow a few days to pass before knocking out the project in question. While you were actively work on other projects, your brain continues to problem solve-in the background.

    This method works because it gives us the opportunity to work on several projects without allowing them to compete for your attention.

    3. Set aside distractions

    Your smartphone, your inbox and the open tabs on your computer are all open invitations for distraction. Give yourself time each day when you silence your notifications, close your inbox and remove unnecessary tabs from your desktop.

    If you want to focus, you can’t give anything else an opportunity to invade your mental space.

    Emails can be particularly invasive because they often have an unnecessary sense of urgency associated with them. Some work cultures stress the importance of prompt responses to these messages, but we can’t treat every situation like an emergency.

    Designate certain times in your day for checking and responding to emails to avoid compulsive checking.

    4. Take care of yourself

    We often blame electronics for pulling us from our work, but sometimes our physical body forces us into a state of serial tasking. If you’re hungry while you’re trying to work, your attention will flip between your hunger and your work until you take care of your physical needs.

    Try to take all your bio-breaks before you sit down for an uninterrupted stint of work.

    In addition, you’ll also want to be sure you’re attending to your health in a broader sense. Getting enough exercise, practicing mindfulness and incorporating regular breaks into your day will keep you from being tempted by distractions.

    5. Take a break

    People are more likely to head to YouTube or check their social media when they need a break. Instead of trying to work and watch a mindless video at the same time, give yourself times when you’re allowed to enjoy your distracting activity of choice.

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    Limit how much time you’ll spend on this break so that your guilt-free distraction time doesn’t turn into hours of wasted time.

    6. Make technology your ally

    Scientists are beginning to discover the detrimental effects of chronic serial tasking on our brains. Some companies are developing programs to curb this desire to multitask.

    Apps like Forest turn staying focused into a game. Extensions like RescueTime help you track your online habits so that you can be more aware of how you spend your time.

    The key to productivity: Focus

    Multitasking is not the key to productivity. It’s far better to schedule time to focus on each task than it is to try to do everything at once.

    Make use of the methods outlined above and prepare to be more effective and less exhausted in the process.

    If you want to learn more about how to focus, don’t miss my other article:

    How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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