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How Much Do You Need to Know Before You're an Expert? Part 2 in a 2 Part Series
by Valerie Young

In the last issue we explored two common obstacles to striking out on your own to start your own business -- the Expert Trap and the Expert Myth. In this issue we're going to expand the definition of expertise.

A white paper by the National Speakers Association on "The Expertise Imperative" offers some fascinating observations about expertise. For example, being an expert goes beyond building knowledge. According to the article, in addition to having more knowledge (with the Internet there is no excuse for not accumulating a basic base of knowledge) one difference between experts and non-experts is that experts organize what they know in ways that make it accessible quickly.

In other words, experts are skilled at taking what they know and delivering to others it in a way that is somehow useful. That's why Barbara Winter is such a fan of creating tips sheets. So much so that she organized her vast knowledge about the benefits of using tips sheets to establish your expertise by creating a tip sheet on tips sheets!

Apparently experts approach problem solving differently as well. According to the article, while "novices head straight for solution of the problem" the expert "spends proportionally more time building up a basic representation of the problem before searching for a solution."

As you go about coming up with a new business idea, think about a topic that interests you and on which you'd like to become an expert. Then seek to learn as much as you can about the problem . . .

  • Why do some dogs bark when they are left alone?
  • Why don't otherwise socially conscious people recycle?
  • Why do children spend so little time in nature?
  • Why do couples who are miserable stay together?
  • Why do perfectly bright, capable people feel like intellectual frauds?
  • What keeps people stuck in jobs they hate?

Once you have a "pretty good" handle on the problem, start generating solutions that you can make accessible to others and then turn your solution into a business.

"The Rewards of Expertise"

In that same article Alan Weiss outlines "The Rewards of Expertise." He ought to know. A highly compensated consultant and speaker, he is also the author of 22 books appearing in six languages and president of Summit Consulting in East Greenwich, Rhode Island (

Weiss describes ten emotional and psychological factors that indicate expertise is "present in a person." Looking beyond the initial "consultant-speak," Weiss's unique take on the psychological payoffs of expertise got me thinking . . .

What if being an expert is as much a state of mind as it is statement of "fact"?

In other words, think about the things that interest or excite you . . . art, travel, sports, building things. Then see if you can identify with any of the characteristics or experiences Weiss' list:

  1. Regularly and spontaneously creates projects, speeches and other interventions that utilize various permutations and variations of the expertise.
  2. Demonstrates outright zeal and joy when engaged in the pursuit, elevation and communication of the expertise.
  3. Feels elated, rather than drained, after being challenged about the subject matter.
  4. Equates the expertise with the overused term, "authenticity." That is, "this subject matter is me."
  5. Sparks others and subsequently triggers motivation through sheer enthusiasm.
  6. Rapidly develops and evolves the expertise; is motivated to create sharp learning curves.
  7. Is drawn "magnetically" to the subject area; making it hard to disengage or omit it from thought.
  8. Steadfastly believes and evangelically persuades that it is in the best interests of others to share in the pursuit, skill or topic.
  9. Feels frustration when the skill can't be applied or can't be understood by others.
  10. "Retreats" to the expertise for solace, reinvigoration, comfort and self-worth.

If you're beating yourself up, holding yourself back, or otherwise letting those negative voices keep you from putting your gifts out into the world, try substituting those tired myth-based messages with these new ones:

"Make three correct guesses consecutively and you will establish a reputation as an expert." Laurence Peter

Valerie Young may be contacted at

"Profiting From Your Passions" expert Valerie Young abandoned her corporate cubicle to become the Dreamer in Residence at offering resources to help you discover your life mission and live it. Her career change tips have been cited in Kiplinger's, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today Weekend, Woman's Day, and elsewhere and on-line at MSN, CareerBuilder, and An expert on the Impostor Syndrome, Valerie has spoken on the topic of How to Feel as Bright and Capable as Everyone Seems to Think You Are to such diverse organizations as Daimler Chrysler, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, Harvard, and American Women in Radio and Television.



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