Expertise != Omniscience

One of the problems I think we all have, in almost every field, is a good definition of expert. Experts don’t necessarily know everything, right? Take a neurosurgeon – definitely an “expert” by anyone’s reckoning, but they’d likely be the first to tell you that they’re always learning new things, too. So, being an expert doesn’t mean “I know all the things.” Go read “Timothy the Blacksmith” if you need a different perspective on that.

So if knowing nothing makes you definitely not-an-expert, but expertise exists somewhere short of knowing everything, then what, exactly, makes an expert?

I’ll offer a taxonomy for you to consider. This is based on Part 4 of Be the Master (which you can get for free by signing up below).

A beginner is someone who is just getting started, as the name implies. Someone who doesn’t yet know enough to work in a field on their own, but is still learning the basics. Call this an “apprentice.”

A practitioner is someone who can operate independently in their field. A practitioner in one topic, in one organization, will be different than one in that same topic in another organization, right? That’s because their two jobs probably have slightly different demands, which they have evolved to meet. But they’re both holding down a job, so they’re both practitioners. Call them “journeymen.”

An expert is someone who can help someone else learn. Perhaps a beginner. An expert isn’t necessarily someone who can impress other experts; they’re someone capable of helping a beginner, and likely a practitioner. Experts often create improvements in their field, perhaps through a streamlined process, an innovation, or something else. Experts never stop learning, but they’re also able to teach. Call them “Masters.”

Where do you find yourself on that scale? Are you “merely” a practitioner? I doubt it. If you’ve learned enough to hold down a job in your field, then you can certainly teach some of those things to other people. And that, I would argue, makes you an “expert.”

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