Building Expertise: How to Become an Expert in any Field

Last Updated Jun 8, 2020 @ 7:53 am

“The future belongs to those who learn more skills and combine them in creative ways.”

― Robert Greene, Mastery

The economist and author Tyler Cowen posits in his bestselling book, “Average is Over”,  that ever-increasing computerization and automation, along with outsourcing and regionalization of jobs results in a world in which the experts (top performers) do a lot better than the rest.

Which parallels the following idea:

Learning how to become an expert in any field is a crucial skill to have in this ever-changing world. The ability to grasp and master concepts and skills quickly and effectively could spell the difference between a hard life and an abundant life.   

But perhaps some of you are wondering: “True — and it sounds simple enough in concept. In reality, however, it’s a lot harder to execute”. 

The good news is, while it will require a big deal of effort from anyone to become an expert (in their chosen field), it is achievable

In this article, we’ll share with you some of the most effective and proven ways for building expertise.

So whether you’re in it to accelerate your career (or transition to a new one), develop an important advantage against peers in your niche, gain more confidence in your field, or simply want to challenge yourself to master something you’ve been wanting to learn for a long time — knowing the right methods to increase the effectivity and pace to becoming an expert in your chosen field is a crucial first step. 

But before we jump into that all-important list of tips, let’s start by getting a solid grasp on what “being an expert” is all about.

What is an Expert?

An Expert refers to someone who has extensive knowledge and skills in a particular field through experience, research (education), and profession. They are recognized for having an elite-level of understanding and skills in a particular domain. 

What Makes An Expert?

While expertise is easy to define (and claim, as some people do), genuine expertise must “pass” these 3 tests as explained in Harvard Business Review’s, “The Making of an Expert”):  

  • It must lead to performance that is consistently superior to that of the expert’s peers.
  • It must produce concrete results.
  • It can be replicated and measured.

A true expert possesses high-level skills that translate to successful outcomes which are better than that of their peers. Also, the underlying mechanisms that result in becoming an expert on a given field or niche should be measurable and identifiable.

This prevents any illegitimate claims of expertise that stem from vague estimates or personal biases. 

The article mentioned above used brain surgeons as an example. The authors argued that surgeons should not only be skilled at the use of scalpels, but it must lead to successful operation on their patients.

Experts are highly-knowledgeable individuals who possess valuable experience, are acknowledged as such by their peers, are dedicated to their craft, and are able to communicate their expertise. These are common themes and characteristics you’ll find similar among real experts.

What Are the Benefits of Being an Expert?

Being an expert on a particular niche (or multiple fields) comes with certain advantages that can be leveraged in both your personal and professional life. 

Some of the key benefits include:

  • Career opportunities open up for people who have a high-level of expertise or knowledge on a specific skill or area of interest
  • Ability to demand a higher salary or charge a premium for their services
  • People seek their opinion and trust their views on matters related to their area of expertise
  • Are more likely to be listened to and respected because of their skill

Also Read: 10 Sure-Fire Ways to Get Promoted at Work Fast

How to Become an Expert in Any Field

If you’re keen on building expertise in a particular field whether for a better professional career or personal satisfaction, the following tips will help you achieve it faster.

Deliberate Practice

The Swedish psychologist K. Anders Ericsson, internationally recognized for his research in the psychological nature of expertise and human performance, stated that focusing on improving certain areas of skills and practicing them at more challenging levels is more effective in gaining expertise versus simply performing a skill a great number of times.

With deliberate practice, you set goals, perform drills focusing on a certain area of the skill, get feedback, and apply that feedback to correct or improve. The idea is to improve the skills you already have by extending the reach and range of your skills.

Say you want to become better at guitar solos. Instead of merely playing songs or doing the same finger routines over and over again, you’ll improve faster overall if you identify areas that you find difficult to perform then focus your training on it.

Whether it’s gaining more finger speed or developing a certain technique, deliberate practice will help in getting better returns for your time and effort.

At work, the same concept applies. Identify an area that needs improvement then start by setting goals and assigning specific challenges that you can perform.

Get feedback afterward so you can correct and improve your methods. 

If you’re in sales and your weakness is in selling face-to-face with a customer, perhaps you can begin by learning how other successful colleagues are doing it and come up with a plan on how to apply and execute what you’ve learned. 

You can read books and materials online to teach you the right mental state and body actions when you’re speaking directly with a customer. Get a buddy to practice with and ask him for feedback and suggestions.

Rinse and repeat until you get the results you want. Once satisfied with your progress, you can move on to the next area that you want to develop. 

This consistent development and skill-acquisition, when applied, will help you build expertise faster. 

Trust the Process

Building expertise requires patience and commitment. You have to be ready to dedicate a certain amount of time and effort to improving your skills and experience.

When you’re not motivated enough or not seeing immediate progress, you’ll have to trust the process. Come up with systems to help deal with the procrastination.

Track your progress. See the big picture. There will be days when it feels hard to push through. In these moments, it’s helpful to reflect and remember what made you want to pursue this goal in the first place. 

Get a Mentor

Seek those who’ve found success in your chosen field. Learn from people who are already doing that of which you want to be an expert on. This is one of the fastest ways to identify the path and actions you need to take to become an expert in your chosen field.

A great coach or mentor will help accelerate your progress as they can help you avoid the pitfalls (that they’ve experienced) and double-down on the stuff that brings the most return for your efforts. 

In “The Last Dance ”, Kobe revealed that he received plenty of guidance and advice from Michael Jordan: 

“Nobody was really thinking much of me, I was a kid that shot a bunch of air balls, you know what I mean? And at that point, Michael provided a lot of guidance for me. Like I had a question about shooting this turnaround shot, so I asked him about it. He gave me a great, detailed answer but on top of that, he said, ‘If you ever need anything, give me a call.

What you get from me is from him. I don’t get five championships here without him. Cause he guided me so much and gave me so much great advice.”

Get critical feedback

A study conducted by Stacey R. Finkelstein and Ayelet Fishback entitled, “Tell Me What I Did Wrong: Experts Seek and Respond to Negative Feedback”, revealed that positive and negative feedback serve different functions and have varying levels of effectiveness depending on when and who the feedback is being given to.

They claim that positive feedback increases the commitment of the person (enhances confidence and motivation) while negative feedback is informative — it tells you where you went wrong, how you can improve, what to do next time, etc.,

The study also argues that positive feedback works best for motivating beginners while negative feedback is preferred by advanced learners or experts.

One of their experiments revealed that students in beginner French classes preferred an instructor who focused on their strengths (motivator). The advanced students, on the other hand, preferred a more critical instructor who will help them develop their areas that need improvement. 

Conceptualizing on these results, it shows that people who already have experience and skills (experts) actually seek negative feedback as it offers them the keys to getting better at what they do, rather than simply hearing what they already know (positive feedback). 

As Elon Musk once said:

“I think it’s important to actively seek out and listen carefully to negative feedback. This is something that people tend to avoid because it’s painful, but I think this is a very common mistake.” 

Connect with Leaders in Your Field

Like great mentors, the innovators and leaders in your field are some of the best sources of information and valuable advice for improving your craft. 

And contrary to what most people believe, asking them for advice is not an impossible endeavor.

You’ll be surprised to learn that most of them are willing to share what they know because they want others to gain from their experience and use it to advance “the cause” or help more people.  

Keep Learning and Testing

Have the right balance of study time and practice. Daniel Cole, author of “The Talent Code” and “The Little Book of Talent”, argues that we learn better if we spend a third of our time on the “study” part while the other two-thirds goes to actually doing the activity. 

If you want to learn how to build websites, for example, you’ll succeed faster by reading a bit about the topic then dedicating most of your time to actually building a website. As the saying goes, “Experience is a great teacher”. 

Testing is actually a form of learning. As students, we think tests are the “main event” and our most essential goal is to pass it. However — testing — in a more generalized concept, is just a tool for acquiring and retaining knowledge better.

From the book, “How We Learn” by Benedict Carey:

“Studying a prose passage for five or ten minutes, then turning the page over to recite what you can without looking, isn’t only practice. It’s a test, and Gates had shown that that self-exam had a profound effect on final performance. That is to say: Testing is studying, of a different and powerful kind.”

Teach others

Through thousands of years, teaching others what we know has been essential in improving our own. As the great Roman philosopher Seneca once said, “While we teach, we learn”. 

“The Protege Effect”, tells us that as we teach others what we know (or even just pretend to teach or prepare to teach it), we’re actually helping ourselves to learn more about the subject that we’re teaching.

It helps us become more aware of our own learning strategies and processes, as well as increase our personal motivation along with increased feelings of competence and autonomy.

In return, it sets the stage for better knowledge and skill retention which will help propel us towards mastering that particular subject.

Expand Your Influence

One of the best ways to gain expertise in an area is by expanding your network of influence to reach more people and connect with other experts.

How do you do this? By demonstrating your knowledge and sharing skills with others.

Use your expertise to help a cause or someone you know. Use a platform to express your ideas to others and attract like-minded individuals (usually other experts) for collaboration and sharing of ideas.

Being a thought leader in your field of expertise opens up your network to other people who operate in the same or related niche and helps establish your credibility as a true expert.

Closing Words

Becoming an expert is no easy feat. It will require a significant amount of time, money, and effort to build expertise in a particular field. However, it is achievable.

With enough commitment and dedication to the craft, along with some of the tips we mentioned here, you can achieve the results you want. 

About Amiel Pineda

Amiel is the lead business & finance columnist of Grit PH. He escaped from the shackles of BPO life and now pursues his dream of writing full time. He shares his best tips and insights for aspiring homebased workers and freelancers on his site: Homebased Pinoy

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