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Understanding Who is an Expert and What Leads to Expertise 

Updated on June 6, 2019

When we talk of an expert, we mean a specialist, an oracle, or a resource person, who is very knowledgeable about, or skilful in a particular area. Many scholars, however, argued that efficient practice was the key to attaining expertise.

Apart from constant practice; mentorship, interest, and innate talent, contribute immensely to expertise.

To prove the fact, and justify our claim, on who is an expert, or the qualities and traits of an expert, let us look at the Erickson Anders's expertise theory:

The Expertise Theory

Erickson Anders, a professor and the leading figure in the field of expertise theory, Florida State University, specified how talent developed across specified fields or domains, focusing on cognitive task analysis, instruction and practice; and clearly specified learning outcomes, against which, one can objectively measure the development of expertise.

Erickson Anders, while conducting a research on expert development, setup a lab in Florida State University. His study therefore, argued that talent useful in careers and at workplaces depended not primarily on personality trait, cognitive, and what have you, rather, it depended on the skills acquisition, as well as knowledge through learning and practice.

His lab, however, generated a number of studies which collectively showed that expertise appeared to conform to orderly laws rather like those of classical learning theory.

The rate of commitment an individual showed in his field, coupled with quality curriculum and expert training appeared to predict the rate and ultimately limits of expertise development within a particular area. It involves a reflective component, including the opportunity to obtain feedback on the quality of one's performance through an expert training.

Erickson, however, argued that to document the development of expertise, one must have clearly specified learning outcomes against which one can objectively measure its development.

How Mentorship, Interest, Innate Talent, and Efficient Practice Contribute to Expertise


  • Mentorship: This is the act of obtaining admonition from a mentor, especially an experienced person in a company or educational institution. A mentor is a wise and faithful counselor or monitor. He serves as a teacher or trusted counselor. A motor mechanic becomes an expert in his field by learning from an experienced coach. It is by mentoring that a mechanic becomes knowledgeable about cars. It is also by mentoring that a mechanic understands the sound of a faulty car, and fixes it to normal. Singers attain expertise through mentorship. A music director who is the mentor in the music industry teaches singers how to sing to conform to the lyrical rules. The uniformity in chorus that produces pleasant sound, is achieved through mentorship and constant practice
  • Interest: Think how you feel, doing what most interests you. Also, think how you feel, participating in what less interests you. Probably, you will perform better in that which you like doing, than that which you dislike. Interest greatly matters when it comes to expertise attainment. During the second world war, when women were being compelled to be enlisted into the army, Katherine Briggs, mother of Isabel Briggs Myers - a successful psychological type theorist, noticed that many women who were forced into the military disliked their jobs, and could not perform optimally. Coincidently, Isabel Briggs Myers took interest in her mother's observation, an act which showed the power of inspiration and interest. She cleverly created what is called Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), a research questionnaire to study how she would help these female soldiers to secure jobs of their choices. The positive humongous result of her research investigation proved beyond doubt, how interest leads to expertise, as ( MBTI) has become a popular test used today.

  • Innate Talent: When we talk of innate, we mean inborn, intuitive or the constitution of the mind, rather than learned through experience. You might be born a writer, an actor or actress, a singer, dancer, etc. Such innate talents grow to expertise, when discovered and put into practice. A famous highlife Nigerian musician, late Chief Osita Osadebe, had said that he was born a musician, while tracing the history of his musical career.
  • Efficient Practice: "Practice," they say, "Makes perfect." A perfect person is a specialist or an expert in his own field. Expertise is achieved through constant learning. Artisans, such as tailors, welders, electricians, builders, and others, grow in experience through constant and efficient practice.

Why/When You Need an Expert

This study, therefore, is incomplete without an example of an expert opinion.

Most times, when we think we can "Do it ourselves," even when we don't have the basic skills, we get scuttled in the process, making mockery of ourselves. Consulting an expert is an inevitable option, when it comes to area of specialization.

Heidi Thorne, an author and business speaker, made this startling confessional statement:

"I'm a horrible cook. Maybe I should rephrase that. My cooking is edible but not incredible. So when a holiday or celebration rolls around, I let professional chefs handle this chore, and I make reservations at some top-notch restaurants in the area. That way I can enjoy the meal, the holiday, and the company of those I care about. What's ironic is that it's cheaper for me to go this route, too, since my kitchen is not well equipped in utensils or supplies, necessitating purchases that I normally wouldn't make.

"So what does this have to do with a small business? Everything!

"In my years of owning a business, I have learned that calling in professional small business help has enabled me to concentrate on the things I do best and grow my business. But, admittedly, in the early going I struggled by doing things the DIY (do it yourself) way. In some ways, I didn't realize there was a better way. At other times, I suffered from superhero syndrome, believing I could handle everything. Then there was always the matter of having money to outsource."

Based on Heidi Thorne's experience, it is therefore, my wish to outline some questions that will be of help to business owners and entrepreneurs, to ascertain when and why the services of experts should be required, in their businesses. Here are the questions:

  • Do I Have Time to Spend in this Project? There are basic rhetorical questions you need to ask before taking up a project, even when you have the required skills. Some of these questions are as follow: Do I have time to spend, working on this project? For how long will it take me, working on it - weeks, months, or years? Permit me to quote Heidi Thorne once more: "I used to spend two to three days doing my monthly bookkeeping tasks. When I hired an excellent bookkeeping service, that was reduced to a couple of hours per month, giving me more time to spend doing what I do best." This is what professionalism can offer. A job that could last between two to three days is reduced to few hours, when an expert is consulted. Take note! "Time," held a common maxim, "Is money." Remember, every hour that is spent on administrative work takes the position of the time that would have been spent, seeking or creating new sources of income. So, be wise!
  • Is the Project at Hand Outside my Area of Specialization? Venturing into a project which you are not an expert in, may cause more harm than good to your business. There are several departments housing other subcategories that are almost different from one another. You may be knowledgeable in one category, and not, in the other category. An example of this is marketing consulting, which encompasses email marketing, distribution of goods, advert design, online advertising, etc. Graphic design is another delicate profession that requires highly experienced person to handle. It is beyond downloading a picture from Adobe website, and making minor editing work. It is more than what you do, using CorelDraw and PowerPoint. If any of the above mentioned categories/subcategories is not your field, please, consider giving it to an expert.

  • Can I Really Do it Myself? You know yourself more than any other person. If you have the skill to do it perfectly, then you are an expert, but if you don't have the skill, please consider giving it to an expert.
  • How Much Will Hiring an Expert Cost? Starting a business is usually face with financial challenges. When a business is new, the business owner spends more money building it. One best strategy to avoid getting trapped in these nonrevenue producing projects is to include consultancy cost into the budget, right from the beginning. By so doing, it will help you to reduce the risk of taking up a project outside your field.
  1. Should I Seek Expert Opinion? Since business owners and entrepreneurs are often emotionally invested in their businesses, it is always difficult for them to see the problems confronting their businesses. In this, while families and friends could be supportive, seeking an expert opinion could be more constructive.

Conclusion:

Having understood who is an expert, or the qualities and traits of an expert, it is therefore, very simple to identify a professional through his performance.

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