Sunday, April 7, 2013

You Just Haven't Earned It Yet, Baby (Part 1)

At what point do you become knowledgeable at something? At what point can I say that I am "speaking with authority?" What separates a knowledgeable and remarkable authority from a plebeian hack or even a shady charlatan?

I've pondered these questions for a long time. Malcolm Gladwell's "10,000 Hour Rule" of practicing one's craft is a threshold for becoming considered an expert at something. If that is indeed the case, the only thing that I truly mastered is the art of sleeping!

What is mastery? What makes someone knowledgeable? Knowledge mastery is a combination of many things: traditional learning, applying learned knowledge into real-world experiences, and willingly sharing knowledge with others in appropriate venues. A predisposition to lifelong learning and always challenging ones existing body of knowledge are also essential traits. You can be book-smart, but unless that learning is translated into tangible experience and/or shared with others who are interested in learning the topic, the information acquisition is useless.

Knowledge doesn't have to be confined to subjects in the conventional workplace or academia either. An area of expertise can be learned in arenas other than what is defined in a job classification or what is being offered in a course catalog at schools. I often find these non-conventional experts more credible than authoritative sources: whenever I'm traveling and want to make informed decisions about the quality of local microbrews or wine before consuming them, the local experts carry more cachet with me than those with traditional seal of approval (like big-name travel guides). Whenever I want to explore delicious pizza joints in Brooklyn, I give more credence to online resources which curate and crowd-source their recommendations from highly engaged group of contributors. I always review several such resources so I can weigh divergent opinions and discover context to frame new information. Another popular example of knowledge authority that I rely on is Wikipedia, which I use as a resource several times a day--mostly as a starting point for researching.

It's regrettable that in some areas of life, your credibility is based purely on job titles and/or certificates earned. Perhaps there's correlation to the mainstream society's emphasis on climbing the corporate ladder and earning more income as benchmarks for defining success. But being an expert has nothing to do with the size of your paycheck or what title you have bestowed on your business card. I've gleaned valuable knowledge in company of peers: not necessarily experts in sense of having a certain title or status, but experts in willingness to listen, share experiences, and contribute. Attending Barcamp Portland un-conference last weekend was a great example of this in action: I've absorbed invaluable suggestions for challenging myself to create and ship after spending an hour at an "Emotional Roadblocks to Getting Stuff Done" discussion. I didn't need to pay thousands of dollars to learn these ideas at a Human Resource seminar that is taught by traditional experts. I've often been moved and inspired by the music of local indie bands who exist for their love of creating and performing music, rather than by bland, contrived corporate pop acts.

So how do you get on the road to become knowledgeable?

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