Monday, October 28, 2013

How to Become an Expert at Anything

There are lots of experts out there. From brain surgeons to master carpenters, experts have highly refined, authoritative knowledge and skill in a given area. But how did these experts become experts? And perhaps more importantly, how can you become an expert? In this post, I will describe how you can very quickly become an expert at anything.

What Does It Mean To Be An Expert?
When you are an expert, you have authoritative knowledge and skills in a given area. This knowledge and skill often comes from extensive experience and education in that specific area. Expertise is usually refined and focused in a given field, though some people can become genuinely expert in multiple fields.

How To Become an Expert
In this post, I will share some of the fastest ways you can become an expert in any area. You may be surprised at how easy it is to start gaining vast amounts of knowledge and skill. It can sometimes seem overwhelming, but all you have to do is just start learning and building experience and you will already be moving closer to becoming an expert.

If you want to become become an expert at something, here are the best strategies:
  1. Set your goal.  
    1. What do you want to be expert at? Before you can really become an expert, you must clearly articulate what you want to be expert at. Do you want to be an expert teacher or writer? Do you want to develop expertise in sewing or organ playing? Perhaps you want to become a motivational speaker? Be totally clear about what expertise you want to gain. 
    2. Why do you want to become an expert? Do you want to make a while bunch of money? Do you want to use the expertise to benefit others? Are you planning on giving a presentation on the topic, or do you plan on starting a small business in the area? Whatever your reason, it must be compelling or you may not have the drive to sustain the effort required. 
    3. What are the milestones? Sometimes you must achieve certifications or degrees of some kind to gain the expertise that you are working toward. If you want to be a doctor, you must earn several degrees, do a residency, and pass many exams. Be sure to find out what milestones are required and make them a part of your plan.
  2. Find a model. Whatever your goal is, someone else has probably already done something similar to what you are working to do. This approach will move you toward your goal very quickly. Find someone that you can model your work after and do the following:
    1. Use them for advice. Ask them questions whenever you need additional help or support.
    2. Watch them! See how they do their work. Volunteer to work with them for free if you need to, just do what you can to spend time with them and learn by observation.
    3. Mimic them. Use the same patterns of action, speech, body gestures, and attitude that your model uses. Adopt their strategies until you make them your own and can adapt them to your own style. 
  3. Start learning! Find books, videos, movies, and CDs on the subject you want to learn about and simply start learning. Personally, I became very interested in how people learn and how to help them learn. Early on I started taking classes on communication, training design, presentation skills. I checked out and bought books on training and training design. Eventually I earned an MS degree and a PhD in Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences. But I have not stopped learning - I continually build my knowledge through consistent study. Here are some ways you can start learning:
    1.  Read. Libraries are incredible resources of knowledge. I check out a couple of audio books a week and am continually listening to books that will expand my knowledge and give me greater expertise.
    2. Online groups and communities. There are many communities online that can provide you with support in your learning. Join LinkedIn groups, discussion groups, and listservs to read about what people are talking about in the field and to ask questions. Get involved with the community.
    3. Ask people. If you have a burning question about your chosen field, ask! There are many people out there that will be willing and happy to share their knowledge.
    4. Take local community classes. There are all kinds of community classes out there - from cooking to technology you can build your expertise and really extend your practical knowledge and skills.
    5. Google. Just start searching and you will likely be surprised at what you can find. I have a friend in an MBA program who wanted to learn about microeconomics and wasn't getting his professor's explanations. He eventually searched out and found a series of excellent YouTube videos that taught the materials very clearly and helped him become more expert.
    6. Get a formal education. Very few things can give you expertise like going to college or university. You can start by taking a course or two. Earn a degree. If you want to become an expert at finances or educational design, start taking classes. Start working toward gaining more formal knowledge.
  4. Start doing. Begin doing whatever it is that you want to learn about. If you want to learn how to build a log cabin, start by building a deck or a shed. Or perhaps just start building the cabin! The point is to start doing what you want to learn about so that you can learn from your mistakes and keep improving.
  5. Keep moving forward. As long as you keep moving toward your goal, you will eventually reach it! Just keep building your knowledge one day at a time, and in time you will have greater expertise than you ever imagined possible.
So, what do you want to become an expert at?

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