The Power of Expertise
by Robert Moskowitz
You can increase your productivity and level of success in this world through many different avenues. One of the most interesting and effective routes upward can be the power of your expertise.
Long gone are the times when any individual could know everything — as many people believe Leonardo Da Vinci, that famous Italian polymath of the Renaissance, once did. Instead, we’re living in a situation today where knowledge is so complex and detailed that specialization is pretty much necessary in every walk of life, from medical doctors to intercom repairers, from computer geeks to grocery clerks.
It’s this ever-more-demanding information environment that drives the continually growing importance and power of expertise.
This is because experts can easily stand out from the crowd on the basis of their ability to:
- Rapidly and accurately understand what’s going on in a specific situation,
- Separate the relevant and important from the irrelevant and unimportant matters,
- Source and apply the needed resources, and
- Produce a satisfactory outcome.
It won’t take long for these powers to help you become known as the “go to” expert. And with a little thinking and planning, you will be able to leverage the power of your expertise into opening doors that lead to bigger and better opportunities.
Your influence, reputation, and ability to accomplish particular goals will normally grow in direct proportion to your depth of knowledge, even though that extra depth generally forces you to narrow the breadth of your expertise.
A serious problem, though, is that in matters of expertise you will find it impossible to “fake it until you make it.” At any rate, you can’t keep up that kind of charade for very long. If you fail more than once or twice to deliver expert help where and when it’s needed, people will lose some of their respect for you and downgrade your reputation.
As you can imagine, developing legitimate expertise and thereby increasing your level of productivity and success is never an overnight phenomenon. But if you’re willing to put in the work, your increasing expertise can earn you very exciting and worthwhile rewards.
Here’s how to proceed:
Step One: Become an Expert
Duh! Did you think it would be easy?
The actual route to gaining expertise can sometimes be clear cut — like going to school and earning a specialized degree — or it can be ambiguous — like learning the ropes through years (possibly many years) of more or less formal apprenticeship, in-service and on-the-job training, and diversified in-depth experience.
In most cases, becoming an expert involves a combination of several different educational, training, and experiential inputs.
Keep Your Expertise Up to Date
Always remember that expertise is a highly perishable commodity. Knowledge keeps rocketing ahead so fast that you can quickly fall out of date in your specialized field and jeopardize both your expertise and your reputation.
To avoid this, you need to put in considerable time on a regular basis to stay abreast of new developments, new technology, new concepts, and even new terminology in your field.
Step Two: Build Your Reputation
Expertise is essential, but not sufficient to leverage yourself upward. In addition, you must become the “go to” expert in your field, at least within the circles you normally inhabit.
To do this, you should intentionally try to cultivate an authoritative image that rests on your expertise. Here are some techniques to help you:
Share Your Expertise
Don’t be shy about telling others how much you know. Without bragging or heavy-handed self-promotion, it’s fair to let others know about courses or educational programs you have completed or are currently taking, as well as relevant experiences and past successes. You can also display your diplomas and other educational certificates, your licenses, and your awards.
As and when appropriate, and again without blowing your own horn, it’s equally helpful to make known both your understanding and your opinions on various matters within your expertise.
Protect Your Credibility
Just as a doctor or lawyer will carefully protect their license and reputation, as an expert you should be careful to maintain your reputation as someone who knows much more than average about whatever specialty you’re fluent in.
To do this, get in the habit of thinking before you speak, using care in committing your thoughts and ideas to writing, and staying away from involvement in sketchy activities and efforts that might someday tarnish your reputation.
A doctor once told me that one of the big reasons she and her colleagues frequently start by taking a patient’s pulse is that the procedure not only looks authoritative, but it gives them time to think about what to say and do next.
Whether you’re spit-balling in a break-room bull session or reacting to a full-blown crisis, you can gain much reputational horsepower by taking a few seconds to think before you speak or act.
And when you eventually say or do something “expert,” do it decisively, displaying as best as you can your full confidence in whatever knowledgeable words or deeds you may bring forth.
Step Three: Step Up
All the education and promotional techniques in the world won’t help you move upward if you don’t actually step up and deliver your expertise when and where needed.
To do this:
- Look for — or at least be open to — opportunities in which your expertise can make a positive difference,
- Thrust yourself into those situations and either offer your help, or — when the situation seems dire and in danger of unraveling completely — consider seizing control,
- Formulate a plan of action, give others specific tasks, and bring together needed resources to implement that plan.
In short, as Rudyard Kipling wrote, “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs….”, you can ride the power of your expertise to higher and higher levels of productivity and success.
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