What makes an expert? Is it hours worked, mistakes made, lessons learnt, or just the ability to speak with confidence?
Most subjects I write about are from my own experiences. However, the subject of my latest article for Smashing Magazine came from Vitaly the editor-in-chief of the site. He was keen to hear my opinions on what makes a web design expert.
This immediately struck me as problematic for 2 reasons. First, like most people I’m not sure I consider myself an expert and so did not feel best place to write on the subject. Second, I didn’t have a clear idea of what I makes an expert. These 2 factors nearly put me off of writing the post. However as I thought about it, it struck me how important the subject is.
Our conflicting emotions about experts.
Expertise is a controversial subject. We often complain about people who proclaim themselves experts, especially when they benefit from the trappings of success such as being asked to speak at conferences or publish books. Yet at the same time we crave the opinions of experts to help us make difficult decisions. Indeed clients will pay top dollar for an expert’s opinion. They will value their opinion more simply because they perceive them as more knowledgable.
Expertise is hard to define.
As I thought about it the idea of what makes an expert began to intrigue me. Is it just to do with the number of hours that you have worked in a given field (as Malcolm Gladwell would suggest) or is it more to do with lessons learnt and mistakes made? Most interesting of all is how many experts ignored because they do not project themselves as somebody knowledgable. As I wrote the piece it became clear that expertise is as much about being perceived as an expert as it is actually having expert skills.
If you’re a web designer looking to increase your profile or get clients to take you more seriously this is a post worth reading. Equally if you’re somebody who hires so-called experts reading this post should help you ascertain what value (if any) an expert brings to the table.