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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  For example, materials studied in the past can now be outdated.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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    Last Updated on October 16, 2019

    Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes

    Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes

    Do you like making mistakes?

    I certainly don’t.

    Making mistakes is inevitable. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could be at ease with them?

    Perhaps there is a way to think of them differently and see their benefits.

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    Why Mistakes Feel Dangerous

    Mistakes often feel dangerous. Throughout human history, our errors have often been treated as dangerous for a variety of reasons:

    • Our vulnerability. We have limited and fragile support systems. When those systems fail, people often lose their lives.
    • Real dangers. Nature can be dangerous, and making mistakes can put us at the mercy of nature and its animal residents seeking a meal.
    • Ignorance. Many cultures scapegoats someone whenever there is a failure of some kind. Scapegoating can be serious and deadly.
    • Order. Many societies punish those who do not conform to the prevailing orthodoxy and treat difference and non-conformity as a mistake. Even our brains flash an error message whenever we go against prevailing social norms.

    We have a history of handling mistakes and failure in an unpleasant way. Since each of us carries our human history with us, it can be a challenge to overcome the fear of making mistakes.

    If we can embrace the reality of mistakes, we can free ourselves to be more creative in our lives and dig up some interesting insights.

    Why We Can’t Avoid Making Mistakes

    Many people operate under the notion that making mistakes is an aberration, a mistake if you will. You can call it perfectionism but it is a more substantial problem. It is really a demand for order and continuity.

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    When we think we can eliminate mistakes, we are often working from a perspective that sees the world as a fixed place. The world, however, is not so obliging. Like it or not, the world, and everything in it, is constantly changing.

    Change is more constant and pervasive than we can see with our own eyes which is why we often miss it. Our bodies are constantly changing. The natural conditions of the earth change constantly as well. Everything, including economic and cultural systems have life cycles. Everything is in a constant state of flux.

    We cannot see all of the changes going on around us since rates of change vary. Unfortunately, when we try to create a feeling of certainty and solidity in our lives or operate from the illusion of stability and order, we are fighting reality and our natural evolution which is built on adapting to change.

    It is better to continually bend into this reality rather than fight every change we experience. Fighting it can cause us to make more mistakes. Finding the benefits in change can be useful and help us minimize unnecessary mistakes.

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    Lessons Learned from Making Mistakes

    Life has so many uncertainties and variables that mistakes are inevitable. Fortunately, there are many things you can learn from making mistakes.

    Here is a list of ways to harness the mistakes you make for your benefit.

    1. Point us to something we did not know.
    2. Reveal a nuance we missed.
    3. Deepen our knowledge.
    4. Tell us something about our skill levels.
    5. Help us see what matters and what does not.
    6. Inform us more about our values.
    7. Teach us more about others.
    8. Let us recognize changing circumstances.
    9. Show us when someone else has changed.
    10. Keep us connected to what works and what doesn’t work.
    11. Remind us of our humanity.
    12. Spur us to want to better work which helps us all.
    13. Promote compassion for ourselves and others.
    14. Teach us to value forgiveness.
    15. Help us to pace ourselves better.
    16. Invite us to better choices.
    17. Can teach us how to experiment.
    18. Can reveal a new insight.
    19. Can suggest new options we had not considered.
    20. Can serve as a warning.
    21. Show us hidden fault lines in our lives which can lead us to more productive arrangements.
    22. Point out structural problems in our lives.
    23. Prompt us to learn more about ourselves.
    24. Remind us how we are like others.
    25. Make us more humble.
    26. Help us rectify injustices in our lives.
    27. Show us where to create more balance in our lives.
    28. Tell us when the time to move on has occurred.
    29. Reveal where our passion is and where it is not.
    30. Expose our true feelings.
    31. Bring out problems in a relationship.
    32. Can be a red flag for our misjudgments.
    33. Point us in a more creative direction.
    34. Show us when we are not listening.
    35. Wake us up to our authentic selves.
    36. Can create distance with someone else.
    37. Slow us down when we need to.
    38. Can hasten change.
    39. Reveal our blind spots.
    40. Are the invisible made visible.

    Reframe Reality to Handle Mistakes More Easily

    The secret to handling mistakes is to:

    • Expect them as part of the process of growth and development.
    • Have an experimental mindset.
    • Think in evolutional rather than fixed terms.

    When we accept change as the natural structure of the world, our vulnerability and humanness lets us work with the ebb and flow of life.

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    When we recognize the inevitability of mistakes as part of the ongoing experiment which life is, then we can relax more. In doing so we may make fewer of them.

    It also helps to keep in mind that trial and error is an organic natural way of living. It is how we have evolved over time. It is better to be with our natural evolution than to fight it and make life harder.

    When we adopt an evolutional mindset and see ourselves as part of the ongoing human experiment, we can appreciate that all that has been built up over time which includes the many mistakes our ancestors have made over thousands of years. Each one of us today is a part of that human tradition of learning and experimenting,

    Mistakes are part of the trial and error, experimental nature of life. The more you adopt the experimental, evolutional frame, the easier it becomes to handle mistakes.

    Handling mistakes well can help you relax and enjoy all aspects of life more.

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    Featured photo credit: Sarah Kilian via unsplash.com

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