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Experts Exit Stage Left

How Expertise Has Recently Changed Significance 

Traditionally, expertise, was an accolade reserved for someone who spent years honing his or her craft to such a degree they were considered an authority. Experts engage within a given subject matter from various perspectives developing their knowledge over time, through a combination of research and experience. That nurturing of a specific skillset takes time to develop. A lot of time. During that time, that future expert is known by his or her peers cultivating a reputation that positively deviates from the norm. By the time one is referred to as an expert, it is not disputable. Gretzky was an expert hockey player not at 17 but at 27..

Achieving a high level of fidelity in one’s craft may take countless paths. Regardless of how simple or complex the activity being practiced; the brain undergoes subtle yet significant changes as your skill mastery develops. To practice a skill, you first learn the basics of how it works. It may feel unnatural at first, and your brain may not be used to coordinating the series of actions required to complete the activity. Your brain cells are rewiring and forming new connections with one another through neuroplasticity. Muscle Memory. 

While every field varies, the time component needed cannot be undervalued. The amount of practice in which an individual engages, coupled with a quality curriculum and skilled training, appears to predict the rate (and ultimately limits) of the development of expertise within a given area.

The type of practice required to develop expertise is not simply doing the work. It is a cognitively effortful activity in which one is thinking about what one is doing. It involves a reflective component, plus the opportunity to obtain feedback on the quality of one’s performance through a mentor. There also needs to be some objective scale to judge the development of this “expertise”. There must be a clear, specified outcome against which one can objectively measure its development.  In my earlier sports scenario, Gretzky leading his team to four consecutive Stanley Cups was one of the defining measures of developmental expertise. No sportsman, regardless of affiliation, could ever question the expertise of Number 99.

Somehow, the standards by which we define expertise has recently diminished. Today, the way we think about expertise has changed. Access to social media and punditry, allows anyone to give their opinion on an issue. One can easily start a website, post a review, and solicit advice based upon their unqualified expertise. Transparency gives more people a voice, but this is often merely noise. Legitimate experts are being crowded out of specific arenas as they may lack social media marketing savvy. When confronted with this noise, ask yourself, what makes this person an expert – or lack thereof.

 An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made, in a narrow field. Niels Bohr

The previously mentioned ‘nurturing of a specific skillset’ is always evolving. Technology and new challenges expand the knowledge and understanding of any given field. It can be said, once a person stops developing that expertise, the moniker of expert no longer attaches.


Gladwell is often cited for his 10,000 hour rule standard for achieving Expertise
Written By:
Luigi Rosabianca of Shield Advisory Group

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