Design · Experience

8 Steps to Become an Expert at Anything

So you’re ready to take your interests/hobbies/skills to the next level and become an expert? Or maybe you’ve identified some new business skills that would serve you well professionally?

Either way, I firmly believe that everyone is an expert in something. Whether your expertise lies in front-end development, the mating rituals of sea monkeys or the ability to fry a perfect flapjack, seeking recognition for your expertise is key to finding a pathway to success by doing the thing you love.

I have made the case that it’s better to be considered an expert than a generalist, at least when your employment depends on it. So let’s dive in!

Venn Diagram showing expert at the intersection of perception and knowledge

The label, “Expert” doesn’t require a Ph.D. There is no ceremony where some cult of experts gives you a certificate. “Expert” is a nebulous label that is largely influenced by perception.

You become an expert when you are perceived as an expert. However, the so-called “expert” will quickly be perceived as a conman if he is unable to prove his expertise. Therefore, the expert is a mix between public perception and deep knowledge.

To become an expert, you have to build both. Luckily, as the diagram shows, we can focus on the overlap between building deep knowledge and crafting public perception to quickly become an expert at anything.

Image of bookshelves with the word study

Step 1: Study

If you’re starting fresh, begin by building your knowledge on the subject. Take classes, read books by other experts, find courses online – do anything to build your knowledge on the subject. For technical skills, I recommend LinkedIn Learning courses. For subjects, identify three books written by experts and take a week to read all of them.

Step 2: Apply

While you can build your knowledge by studying, that knowledge is quite superficial until you can apply it. By applying your knowledge, you’ll find and fill the gaps in your learning while building your experience.

Step 3: Write

Novices read, experts write. Writing forces you to summarize your knowledge and solidify your own thoughts and beliefs. Summarize the books you’ve read. Write about how you have applied your knowledge. What did you learn? As you build your knowledge, you start to identify what’s missing from the public lexicon and fill in the gaps with your own writing. That’s called becoming a thought-leader!

Step 4: Acquire Titles

While Ph. D. and M.D. are titles that will instantly make anyone appear to be an expert, those titles are expensive, selective, and time-consuming. Luckily, there are a host of other titles you can own for a few hundred bucks and 5-minutes. Identify a handful of organizations with official-sounding names and become a member of each.

image of men writing on whiteboard with the word "teach"

Step 5: Teach

So far you’re just someone with a blog and a few titles. It’s time to start putting those titles to work and get some recognition. Give a free 1-3 hour seminar at the nearest well-known university. Make it clear that you’re not selling anything, you just want to share your knowledge and gain speaking experience. Record yourself from two angles and make a shareable video.

Step 6: Get Published

Offer to write articles for trade magazines and blogs. Cite your experience giving seminars and use those titles! The goal is to get your name listed as author or contributor in some significant publications.

Step 7: Register as an Expert

Join ProfNet, an online service that connects journalists with experts. If done properly, with some well-used sales techniques, you could be featured in media ranging from the New York Times to ABC.

Step 8: Repeat!

The rest is up to you! Build deeper expertise, take on some related subjects, or something totally new! Remember that this is about presenting the truth in the best possible light — not fabricating it. As long as your claims of expertise are based in reality, this method is all about superior positioning.

If you found this useful, consider sharing it so others can find it too. Help others make their expertise known!

Design · Experience

Generalist or a Specialist? Which is Best?

As a newly graduated professional, I wondered whether I should market myself as a generalist or a specialist. Of course, as a recent grad, I am certainly not an expert at anything yet. I certainly considered myself a generalist. As a creative, I’m drawn to things I don’t know much about. This passion has led me to become proficient in many skills.

Liberal artists will tout about being “well rounded” and be quick to point out the successes of Renaissance men through history. However, when it comes to professional presentation, I’ve found that the generalist does not find similar favor with industry. I’ve come up with some reasons for why I think this is the case and I offer an explanation for why it’s in your best interest to specialize.

Chart using bell curve to define generalist and specialist

Defined broadly, a generalist is one who is proficient in many skills often spanning multiple fields. Conversely, an expert is one who has comprehensive and authoritative knowledge in a specific field.

From a hiring manager’s perspective, she’s trying to fill a role with the best possible candidate. In a world filled with generalists, the expert/specialist who fits the bill will always win. There are very few expert-generalists in this world and most of them are doing things like founding their 3rd company or leading Space X; not applying to jobs.

What about those job postings which specifically ask for generalist qualities from creatives. It has been my experience that these postings come from smaller organizations looking for one employee to handle most of their creative pursuits. For reasons which will become clear, you might consider avoiding those roles for risk of branding yourself as a generalist.

As a young generalist myself, I still have a handful of related skills which I enjoy doing much more than the others. This is where I have chosen to focus and work to develop an expertise. After beginning to do so, I’ve recognized potentially infinite gains from making the switch from generalist to expert.

You Can Charge More

As a generalist, your positioning is based on your price – to be competitive, you will have to lower the price for your services. This is true whether working for an employer or a client. As an expert, your positioning is your expertise. To compete, you only have to prove more competence and authority in your field than the handful of other experts. An expert gets to charge more.

You Can Build Authority

Being an expert means you become an authority. This means that employers or clients will cede authority to you when it comes to matters of your expertise. Creative liberty can be very fulfilling.

You Can Still be a Generalist

Choosing to specialize does not mean abandoning generality. Those who are especially driven can do both, though effort placed in deepening expertise may prove to be a better investment in the workforce than efforts placed elsewhere.

You Won’t be Bored

I struggle with becoming disinterested in what I once found exciting. This is a struggle I find many creatives have and it is the feeling that drives the generalist. Picking a specialization is an important choice and one that should come naturally (maybe after some time pressure i.e. Graduation). They key is that what you specialize in should never bore you. For generalist creatives, this means refining your passion to that one field that perhaps underlies all your other passions.

Disclaimer: much of this thinking came from reading The Win Without Pitching Manifesto by Blair Enns

Design

Android Homescreen Layout – Spring 2015

Welcome to the first installment of my Android home screen setup series. In this series I will post pictures and animations showing off my current home screen setup. A new entry to this series will be made whenever I make a major change in the layout.

One app makes most of my home screen customization possible. Zooper Widget Pro allows for unique widgets to be built from scratch and fully customized by the user. My use of Zooper Widget has resulted in everything from clock widgets, to custom themed calendars to stylized app launchers. While making your own widgets can result in the most customization it is also very time consuming and using Zooper’s build environment has a small learning curve. If you are not technically inclined or don’t have hours to spend adjusting your custom widgets, Zooper includes several built-in templates and has the ability to download and use user-generated widgets downloadable from the Google Play Store.

The other notable player in making this layout is MultiPicture Live Wallpaper pro. MultiPicture is an excellent customization tool that allows the user to set a custom wallpaper for each screen on the home screen. For people like me who like a theme throughout their phone or who can’t decide what wallpaper to use, this is the perfect compromise. The app also allows for several custom animations when scrolling through screens.

Let’s delve into my current layout (as of Spring 2015).

homescreen layout spring 2015

Main Screen

I began working on this layout after my trip to San Francisco and tour of Stanford and Google’s campus. I was fascinated with the mighty Golden Gate Bridge and collected a series of beautiful phone wallpapers that I assembled together using MultiPicture Live wallpaper. Using Zooper Widget Pro, I Made the very structured and rectangular digital clock on the main screen. The clock’s font compliments the straight and bold lines and structure of the photo of the Golden Gate. Below the clock I have a customized app launcher arranged in a very appealing “X” divider. The top icon of the widget is mutable and changes its icon to reflect the current weather conditions. The icon is also a launcher for HTC’s default weather app. This variable icon set is a default feature of Zooper. To the left is the stock email app launcher. Right is the launcher for my google calendar. And bottom, a launcher for Poweramp Music Player. Below the X app launcher tray, are four folders containing my most commonly used apps.


If you’re curious, those apps include:

Social

  • Facebook

  • Linkedin

  • Pinterest

  • Facebook Messenger

  • Klout

  • Twitter

  • Cord

  • Instagram

  • Blogger

  • Snapchat

Wallet

Media

  • YouTube

  • Netflix

  • HTC TV Remote (discontinued)

  • Pandora

  • SoundCloud

  • Spotify

Games

Utilities

The leftmost screen has a very “material designesque” aerial photo of the Golden gate with another “X” divider app launcher. However, this one has a more circular motif. With Google Maps at the top, calculator on the left, flashlight on the right, Google Goggles at the bottom and HTC’s stock camera app in the middle, this all-in-one app launcher serves as a quick launch utility just a swipe away from the main screen.

Finance

The rightmost screen has a very vertically oriented photo of the Golden Gate’s strut. To contrast the vertical lines composing the wallpaper are several horizontally aligned widgets that provide live updates to all things financial. Starting at the top, Acorns investing shows my current account balance and line graph depicting the recent market conditions. Below that I have my current Bitcoin hashing rate and current bitcoin price displayed by the dedicated app for Slush’s mining pool. Next to the bottom, is the accounts summary for Mint, my personal finance manager. And last but not least, my Coinbase wallet balance, sitting comfortably at about 0.5 BTC at the moment.

Well that’s it. I hurried to make this post since my Pebble Time will be arriving soon this month and I suspect that many of my widgets on my phone are likely to become less-used with the added functionality and ease of use that comes with a smartwatch. My setup is likely to change in the near future so keep up for the next instalment.