Expertise is one of those things that is both rare and a highly valued commodity — a fact belied by the frequency in which it appears on resumes — but made clear by the way it is sought out by everyone, from potential employers, to partners and customers. We all understand that expertise is important, but many have a more difficult time of figuring out the right way to gain it.
The pursuit of a degree can certainly help you develop but doesn’t exactly require you to get your hands dirty in a way that allows you to learn practical skills. Working your way up the ladder at an established company also has major benefits, but it often takes time to get the responsibility you need to be able to gain the expertise you’re looking, which can be counterproductive to your effort. Don’t get me wrong — experience is certainly an excellent way to gain knowledge, but its correlation with expertise is not causal.
Related: So, You're an Industry Expert Now? How to Prepare for a Speaking Gig.
Another, and arguably more successful, way to becoming an expert in something is to just strike out on your own and teach yourself. One of the biggest misconceptions about starting a business is that the expertise in running a business is a precondition to creating one. You can always learn from and rely on others, but at the end of the day, there is exponentially more to be learned from doing something yourself.
Here are a few tips in gaining expertise:
1. Don’t trust your instincts.
You may be asking yourself, “What? That’s the exact opposite of what everyone’s ever told me!” Yes, a well-known mantra is to trust your instincts, but the harsh reality is that even the most well-intentioned instincts are often wrong. The key to driving your business forward and developing your skills is to better understand how you make decisions, so you are more capable of knowing when your gut is leading you in the right direction — and when you may need a second opinion.
We've all been through the process of watching a brilliant idea fail miserably, and while this has its own long-term benefits, it is easier to avoid it entirely. Learning your own cognitive pre-dispositions, whether it be an over-reliance on a specific tool or a risk-tolerance that is far too high, can help you avoid critical errors and grow your business faster.
2. Embrace your ignorance.
Experience can help you identify problems and opportunities in advance, but it can also blind you to other problems and opportunities. Coming in with fresh eyes allows you to establish your own unique perspective and expertise in order to see things that your competition or would-be mentors might not. The sometimes overwhelming desire for the sense of security provided by credible experts can come at the expense of creative growth.
Very often, the most disruptive solution for a specific industry is hidden by best practices that make that option much less exciting or visible. We can argue whether ignorance is actually bliss, but it is fairly obvious that you can't be afraid of what you don't know. Sometimes this lack of knowledge can lead you astray, but it can also be a prerequisite for identifying a new road to success. Being aware of inexperience is important, but embracing the uncorrupted perspective it affords can be a game-changer.
Related: Sometimes Your Expertise Might Be Exactly What's Holding You Back
3. Learn from your partners.
Whether it be a food supplier for a restaurant or an advertiser on your website, understanding the needs and viewpoints of all parts of your supply chain and sales funnel can be incredibly helpful. Keeping an eye on what’s important to each player in your business gives you a more holistic view of your business and can help you realize critical insights much more rapidly. Equally, it will keep your finger on the pulse and help you stay ahead of market changes.
4. Ignore the stigma of failure.
There are few lessons as powerful or lasting as failing miserably to accomplish a goal. We’re always told to avoid failure, which is why, when it occurs, it can be so devastating. While I certainly would not recommend seeking it out, if failure does happen to come your way, embrace it and use it as an opportunity to learn for the future.
Taking a step back after a setback and properly analyzing what led to it can be an important and liberating process. Undertaking a thorough debrief can help you gather insights into your decision-making process and the way you operate your business. In the best case, it can help you clearly identify areas to change, allowing you to move forward all the stronger.
Most importantly, you will learn rather quickly that while failing may be a gut-wrenching experience, it is hardly the end of the world. Much of succeeding in business is about taking risks, and fearing failure may be important — but knowing that it is a temporary frustration can empower you to take the risks necessary to achieve true success.
Acquiring expertise will allow you to sit in the driver’s seat of your business and learn and grow as you build your business. But as critical as it is to recognize the importance of expertise, it is more important to have an actionable plan to acquire it. Degrees and experience are great, but sometimes the best way to become an expert is to start learning on your own, testing out ideas and adopting insights you gain into your future endeavors. By keeping these tips in mind, you can make the most of your entrepreneurial pursuits to create the foundation for long-term success.
Related: The 7 Real Reasons You Need to Be an Expert at Something
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