You’re An Expert, Right?

Have you heard of the term “Jack of all trade, master of none?” If you have, then it means that you are referencing a person, who has dabbled in many skills but have been unable in gaining expertise in one particular skill.

In today’s world where we are known by our virtual avatar (like things we like on LinkedIn, the comment we wrote, or the headline that we just updated!), no one wants to be the jack, but everyone wants to be the master, but without acquiring the right knowledge!

There has long been a debate where millennials speak ad nauseam about how outdated the current academic system is, how it was meant for the western world to make the rest of the world subservient to it, and how education is decentralizing with online learning.

Without deviating much around the relevance of these talks, I would like to put my focus back on these experts.

While growing up, most of us would have gone through though Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, and the very famous 10,000 rule. It states, that if one has to become the absolute best in their field, then they have to practice that skill for at least 10,000 hours. He gives an example of the Beetles in this case, where before they came to the US in 1964 and became a rage, they used to play at a strip club in Germany for 8 hours a day, 7 days a week, for months at a time. Similar case studies have been used to explain the success of Tiger Woods, Bill Gates, Mozart and others.

Most of you would argue that the working population is not technically an outlier and clearly there is no need to go that extra mile and take those risks! I might agree with you from a macro standpoint but will differ from the micro one. Inside each company, every circle, every team, every group, every member wants to stand apart. This is who I would like to call Micro Outliers where the performance is exceptionally good and stands apart from the rest of the team.

There are other articles/research papers and books that contradict the claim made in the outliers (more can be found here and here.)

Despite all these claims and counterclaims, exactly when should you classify yourself as an expert without making yourself look like a complete idiot in this knowledge-based economy?

I’d say the answer is NEVER. Let me explain why.

1) Humility and Hubris – You need to be humble enough to know that you will never know enough and have enough hubris to take great pride in your skills. 

2) There is always someone above you – If you are the smartest person in the room, then it is time to change the room. As you go higher, you will find people who are way-way smarter than you and they do not claim to be experts.

3) Things change – A skill you are an expert at today, might very well not even be required tomorrow. Things are changing way faster than you can learn and master them.

4) The cost of getting it wrong – An expert knows what works and more importantly knows what does not work. If you do not know the cost of true negatives and false positives then you are living in a fool’s paradise.

5) Put your own money in the game – If you trade, then you would know what I mean. It is very easy to give a client a budget and underperform. In the end, it is the client who loses, not you. Maybe you got a free experiment to play with.

6) The day you think you are an expert, it’s game over! This is the most important step. As Steve Jobs once said – “Stay hungry, stay foolish”. That hunger was for knowledge and that foolishness was the childlike curiosity one needs to have to survive and thrive, but not become a so-called expert.

Disclaimer Note: This article is more focused at the young tech and digital savvy community who think they are entitled to use words such as experts after finishing a 7-day online course (that too by another so-called expert). People working at the intersection of different domains/technologies, who are genuinely subject matter experts are the not audience for this article, though the principles remain the same!

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