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Are You An Expert If You Can't Share What You Know?

expert.jpgYou know what you know, right? You know something that other’s don’t. Or at least your perspective on a topic is unique.

But does any of that matter of you can’t communicate it?

From my post yesterday, How Not Knowing Something Makes You More Of An Expert, an interesting conversation emerged. I really enjoyed hearing your perspectives on whether an expert had to know everything or not.

What most of us agreed upon is that the term expert can apply to anyone who has a unique and valuable perspective on a topic. In other words, you don’t have to be at the top of the ladder to be considered an expert. Rather, you can be seen as an expert simply by knowing more than your audience.

The second, and I think more important, point that was made had to do with how you get the title of ‘expert’ in the first place. We almost unanimously agreed that it’s unfair to designate yourself as an expert in anything. That designation is reserved for other people to ‘judge you’ by.

The conversation on this topics was (still is – as it keeps going) great. But one comment stood out for me. It was from Michael Sass, who, unfortunately, didn’t leave a URL for us to follow. Check this out

Interesting topic that can trigger self-worth and self esteem issues. Here's my take…Clients work with us not because of what we know, but because of our ability to bridge the gap between what we know and what our clients know.We are experts and students of our given fields. We have gathered a great deal of information and experience, but remain open to learning. A master is an expert and a student at the same time. Standing on a mountain of information and experience, they remain open to the unknown, and are not fooled into believing they're finished learning.

When I read this, so many ideas popped off in my mind that I wasn’t sure exactly how to respond. Yet, I managed this:

Yes! Yes! Yes! Now you're sounding a bit more like Confucius than Seth (Godin).

What you describe is very close to what I think as well. Personally, I run a business that's about knowing, learning and synthesizing a number of components – marketing, business development, strategic planning, copy writing, website development, usability, graphic design, social media – to help people grow their businesses through the internet. So not only do I need to know what I know, I also need to keep up with areas that are quickly and constantly changing. And because I coach and consult with my clients, if I can't effectively communicate what I know, then what I know is virtually useless.

Notice I didn't say teach. I said communicate. Teachers often just spew out information (think of your TA's in college) without much concern whether they're doing so in the most effective way for people to learn. Communication, on the other hand, is about being understood. And the coaching is about helping people apply their new understandings.

Does all this make me an expert? I don't care, really or personally. All I care about is helping my clients ‘get it and use it.'

Again, I’m running through tons of thoughts right now. But the one that sticks out the most is about communicating. Are you really an expert if you can’t communicate – clearly share – what you know?

I wonder. I know plenty of people who have a lot to offer. I know far less who can really share what they know in a way that benefits others. So, I ask you, can we consider someone with knowledge an expert if they’re unable to communicate their knowledge in a way that helps others?

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Comments

  1. Inside Small Business says:

    Interesting question, one that really makes you think.

    I believe that a trait of any expert is the ability to communicate their knowledge to others. Otherwise they are not an expert, but a leader.

  2. Jean Browman--Stress To Power says:

    I have no doubt I know a lot of useful things. My main concern now is figuring out how to share what I’ve learned. That’s why I’m blogging.

    As I’ve said before, my basic philosophy is “Keep curious and open to life. No matter what happens keep learning and growing. Find what you love to do and find a way to share it with others.”

  3. Very interesting question. I think it really depends on your definition of expert. You could certainly make the argument that a master craftsman is an expert even if he or she is not sharing their craft. Michael Jordan was most definitely an expert in his field, and probably did communicate some of his expertise to others. But I’m just as sure that there are star athletes who have absolutely no interest in sharing their mastery with others.

    The term expert has taken on a certain connotation the Internet Marketing world with people claiming mastery in just about every area you can imagine, with or without any justification for that claim.

    And finally, to specifically address your last question: “So, I ask you, can we consider someone with knowledge an expert if they’re unable to communicate their knowledge in a way that helps others?”

    One could certainly be an expert in a given field, however be a very inept communicator, but then partner with a good communicator to share his/her expertise.

  4. Manuel A. Martinez says:

    Once had a few friends that I diffinately
    knew they knew about a certain topic. But they would
    say, ” I don’t know I coulnd’t tell you” and
    that was that. End of conversat….
    I think think alot of us will not
    comment on something because we want to settle into a “safe-zone” where they don’t think conversation is important or that they
    don’t want to appear dumb on the subject

  5. Franck Silvestre says:

    Some experts can’t communicate what they know, and this doesn’t decrease their status in anyway.

    What if he can’t speak English? HE will not be able to explain what he knows to you… Except via translation.

    Is he still an expert? Answer: yes!

  6. Blogging Mix says:

    Through blogging, I’m able to share things I’ve learnt. Communicating it to my readers is the biggest challenge but I don’t think its the it all and be all of what defines an expert blogger.

  7. London Terry says:

    There is no such thing as an expert. In any given area some people may know considerably more than other people but this doesn’t make them expert.

    Perhaps, in certain circumstances, one could accurately be called knowledgeable, skillful, even inspirational but none of this makes one an expert. No matter how well or how badly one communicates, nothing changes the fact that there are no experts in anything.

  8. I think experts and comminicators are two different types of people. Though it is very desirable for an expert to have the ability to communicate, I don’t think it is necessary for her/him to do so in order to demonstrate expertise in a certain field. For example, a person who speaks a language different from my own or who is mute may be able to dismantle, then re-assemble any auto engine. I would certainly say that s/he is an expert in assembling and disassembling auto engines even though s/he cannot explain it to me. This brings me to another question — what part of the responsibility in communicating does the audience share? The receiver of info must certainly make a commitment to listening as closely as necessary to the transceiver of knowledge. (Note: I had just this morning come to the conclusion that the captain of my pool team is an excellent player, but, because his instructions are contradictory, incomplete, misfocused and inaccurate, he is not a good coach.)

  9. (Sorry, I sent my first message before it was finished.)

    Here’s another thought — just what is an expert? (Without a common defintion, can we have a meaningful discussion?) In my view, it is not necessary for an expert to know everything about a subject. In fact, it is impossible for anyone to know everything about a subject. Does that mean that no one can speak authoritatively and with expertise about any subject? I don’t think so. I think that holding an expert to an impossible standard makes the word useless. [The word 'expert' is derived from the Latin word (via the French) for 'experienced'.]

  10. Personally, an expert is measured in his success and not the amount of information he shares with the world. There are many people who know a lot of information and prefer to keep it quiet and get rich off of it. They don’t need to prove that they know more than you, they don’t need to go around teaching people so that they know his/her name and call her an expert.

    Experts take a regular site and make it superb. They change the location of the ad and triple their earnings. They change their keyword and see a sharp increase in traffic. Whether they share it with the world or not, these are experts.

  11. I think the labeling of someone as an expert is too subjective.

  12. This is a very interesting question. In my opinion, an expert is the guy that is all-knowing in his particular niche.

    However, in reality, experts are often simply above average. Tim Ferriss’s “4 Hour Work Week” book does a great job showing how easy it is to get certifications and recognitions that make it look like you are an expert, when really you just know a little bit more than the average Joe.

  13. Everyone,
    Interesting debate, huh?

    Thanks for your excellent and well-thought-through points. I am reminded that an expert tends to be something subjective. It’s really up to me – or you – to decide whether someone’s an expert or not. Or even whether there are experts (great points, London Terry).

    The key for me is that this whole subject truly is something subjective. There can be experts who have less knowledge than others in their field simply by you believing there are. And there are no experts in anything if that’s how you think.

    I’m still left with the idea that no one can really call themselves an expert on anything. I mean, you could and people do it all the time. But does calling yourself an expert make you an expert?

  14. I would say you can only view yourself as an expert if you can’t convey your thoughts to others. You become an expert among the people once you can convey your thoughts and wishes to them.

  15. Why claim to be an expert? Let the people decide. Claiming to be one only leads to trouble in the long run.

  16. Ilia Levinson says:

    I love these type of questions since the major oversight in this whole debate is the lack of understanding of the term ‘expert’. Let’s grab a dictionary and see what it says:

    1. A person who has special skill or knowledge in some particular field; specialist.

    2. The highest rating in rifle marksmanship, above that of marksman and sharpshooter.

    3. Possessing special skill or knowledge; trained by practice.

    So by definition, anyone can be an expert and more so if they simply have a great skill. As for the topic on hand of whether someone can not be considered an expert if they cannot communicate their expertise, well ask yourself this: Is a person who can drive very well not an expert? Is an expert rifleman not an expert?

    The process of labeling someone an expert is relative, meaning it can be done at your discretion, just as much as it is left up to someone else’s. It’s really just as stated above where if you are better than the people around you, you’re an expert. However this doesn’t necessarily make you the best, there may very well be thousands other ‘experts’ such as yourself out there. So the definition of “Master” is a good application where you’ve still got a lot to learn, but already have a good foundation.

    It’s safe to say if you have a skill that can be put in place better than others, you should can consider yourself an expert. However, depending on the field in which you classify yourself an expert in,
    you can’t be considered an expert teacher, if you can’t teach. So essentially, depending on your field, if it requires you to communicate, if you cannot do so, you cannot be an expert.

  17. David,
    Both excellent points.

    I feel, what’s the point of ‘being an expert’ if you can’t share your knowledge? Pointless, really.

    Ilia,
    Exactly. It is relative…it’s subjective. And, of course, we can call ourselves anything. But like beauty, isn’t expertise seen through the eye of the beholder?

  18. “But does calling yourself an expert make you an expert?”

    No.

    You make yourself an expert by acquiring skills and/or knowledge about a subject. But you won’t be recognized as an expert unless you convincingly communicate your expertise verbally or in writing OR be able to demonstrate your knowledge and skills in a satisfactory fashion to someone who is already considered an expert or at least knowledgeable on the subject matter. Which could lead to an interesting problem if the very first so-called expert was a fraud.

    My original point in your previous article was around the ability to verbally communicate one’s expertise. Some people just aren’t able to do that. That doesn’t diminish their knowledge or skills, but it does make it harder to show what you know.

  19. It’s quite easy for someone to be an expert in some fields without the need for communication and where the results will just speak for themselves. However, in many business environments an expert is useless if he can’t get the message across to people in the organization.

  20. Ilia Levinson says:

    @Mark, Dawud

    I think yes it makes sense to say where if you cannot show that you are an expert, you cannot be considered an expert. I’m guessing when you’re referring to ‘communicating’ you are not limiting this to verbal, but every type of communication being verbal and physical and so forth. Which is reasonable, but the language used may be confused, such as I did.

    That said, the point made seems to be clear, if you have a skill or knowledge which may entitle you to be referred to as an ‘expert’, then you must be able to demonstrate or display your ability otherwise the title of ‘expert’ cannot be used until justified through others.

  21. Interesting question that you pose. Basicly the tree in the forest question in different form. If there is no one to receive the information or the information cannot be communicated effectivly then no this person would not be considered an expert because no one would know.

  22. CHESSNOID says:

    I do believe you can be an expert even though you can’t share your knowledge. Sometimes experts are just not good communicators. :(

  23. Ilia Levinson says:

    Yes, great analogy Mark. As Dawud above stated, it’s all relative and subjective. You can only consider yourself an expert if you are in fact better than others. If you have no one to compare yourself to, you cannot be an expert.

  24. “Rather, you can be seen as an expert simply by knowing more than your audience.”

    Funny, in my field (criminal trials, etc.) that pretty much defines expert…

  25. Mark,
    I’m just simply a firm believer that ‘expert’ is for others to decide. It’s fine if people want to give themselves that title, but it doesn’t mean anything to me personally until I’ve seen what they can do.

    MDB,
    Exactly. Having knowledge is one thing. But does that make you an expert? I’m saying that expert is decided by everyone other than the person with the ‘expertise.’ So that requires the ability to share what you know.

    Ilia,
    I’m not sure anyone is entitled to the title expert. Again, we can call ourselves anything, but that doesn’t mean others see us in the same light. And in business, it’s about what other people think.

    Jamie,
    True. When an expert witness testifies at a trial, who’s decided that they’re an expert? Isn’t that quite subjective.

    CHESSNOID,
    Sure, but they how would you know someone is an expert?

  26. Ilia Levinson says:

    Dawud
    I never disagreed with your statement, I simply attempted to clarify it because of the confusing language you use.

    However, I wouldn’t necessarily limit the ability to be entitled an ‘expert’ through just other people. If for example I consider myself a computer expert, I can reach this conclusion from 1 of 2 ways. Your way by demonstrating to others that I am more capable than they are, or I can have them demonstrate their abilities instead, and if they’re inferior to my own, then that would entitle me to wear the ‘expert’ tag.

    However, as you pointed out, the title means nothing unless shown to others and have them agree. The point though is that what would justify you to wear it, rather than justify your skill level.

  27. car rental says:

    I think yes it makes sense to say where if you cannot show that you are an expert, you cannot be considered an expert. I’m guessing when you’re referring to ‘communicating’ you are not limiting this to verbal, but every type of communication being verbal and physical and so forth. Which is reasonable, but the language used may be confused, such as I did.

  28. Ilia,
    I’m not disagreeing with you either, actually. I think I’ve been considering the title expert from the perspective of business. And in business, being an expert does depend on how others perceive you and, hence, your ability to communicate your knowledge.

    You provide an example, I think, that shows the possibility that one could be an expert in an area where it might not matter. Thanks for that.

    Car,
    Certainly not. I chose communicate because it serves more than the verbal. If I’m playing tennis with someone who’s much better than me, I might consider them an expert just because of their command of the game – without there ever being a word exchanged. Yet I see them as an expert because of how they communicated it, through their play, on the court.

    Does that help clarify how I see it?

  29. 电子机票 says:

    we can call ourselves anything, but that doesn’t mean others see us in the same light.

  30. 电子机票,
    Sure, we can call ourselves whatever we wish. There is certainly freedom there. It also doesn’t mean we are what we say we are. The proof is always with the pudding itself, regardless of what the pudding’s called.

  31. Tim Noyce says:

    Now this depends on who is asking the questions. I am a mathematician by background and can assure you that there are plenty of expert mathematicians (the Fields Medal is a good indication) who are not (on their topic) comprensible for anyone other than a fairly skilled mathematician, because you need a common ground of concepts to refer to. Plenty of essential concepts in mathematics have no useful analogy in the physical world.

    I myself judge on “open communication”. Is the person willing, even eager, to answer questions about her domain of expertise as clearly as she is able?

    I have in mind the example of two expert doctors I encountered: both were hard to understand, but one of them dismissed questions and the other handled them with respect, sometimes needing to research a response(!) but sometimes still failing to secure my comprehension. That is a world of difference: the second doctor was secure enough in her expertise to state when she was not sufficiently certain of the response and go back to her sources, to learn. Experts have humility with respect to their chosen domain.

  32. web conferencing says:

    know what, the title of your article made something attracted me to read.. you are right.. you are not good if you dont share.. its useless if you keep it only to your self..

Trackbacks

  1. Anonymous says:

    Are You An Expert If You Can’t Share What You Know?…

    Are you really an expert if you can’t communicate – clearly share – what you know? I wonder. I know plenty of people who have a lot to offer. I know far less who can really share what they know in a way that benefits others. What do you think?…

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