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Let’s Talk About The Word “Expert”

Posted by on Nov 24, 2010

The word “expert” is an ugly word, though it’s not supposed to be. It’s an ugly word because when people use the word in describing themselves other people don’t like it. Some people dislike it so much that they go way out of their way to be called anything except an expert. I know this because I’m one of those people. I’ve been thinking about the word a lot lately, even before I took a gander at Scott Stratton’s book Unmarketing, which I read in about 40 minutes and that seems to stun people. No matter, it is what it is.

I’m going to make an interesting disclosure here as part of the sidebar. I kind of Mets got online back in 2004 on Ryze. It was the precursor business website that also had a lot of personal things that people could interact about to both LinkedIn and Facebook. it was pretty neat, and I still have a page on that site, but it went obsolete fairly quickly because the owners of the site really didn’t care to put much maintenance and it, probably thinking it was fine just the way it is and not seeing the juggernauts that were coming. Anyway, I wasn’t a big fan of his. I thought that he showed a lot of meanness to a lot of people and that he projected an image of not having any patience in dealing with people who may not be as smart as he thought he was at the time.

Now the one thing I like to think I am is somewhat fair, and just because I might have a negative personal feeling against someone or something does not mean I can acknowledge when something they do is pretty good. And the book Unmarketing is a pretty good book; after all I never said he wasn’t a smart guy, just probably not as smart as he thinks he is. That’s why I’m linking to the book and if someone decides they want to read it anyone buy it from me who am I to turn down a little bit of money?

Anyway back to this topic of the word “expert”. Scott takes the word on in his book and it’s kind of interesting what he says. He starts off by saying that when people call themselves experts you really need to be careful of that because it’s hard for anybody to be an expert in a field that’s constantly changing. And since that’s pretty much every business, you really have to be up on your stuff if you’re going to call yourself an expert. At the same time, that doesn’t mean that you can’t claim to have expertise in something, and by de facto having expertise in the field does help to make you an expert in someone else’s eyes. He admits to cringing when people call him an expert, yet acknowledges that there are things he has done in his life that in the eyes of others and himself does justify the terminology here and there.

He makes a good point in his absolutely right. The truth of the matter is that there are a lot of people who are experts in their field. Being an expert does not mean you know everything there is to know, but it certainly means you know a heck of a lot about it. I don’t think there’s many people who would say that Stephen Hawking is not an expert on black holes, and yet even he wrote a different book 20 years later that disputed some of the things he had said was his original book, A Brief History of Time. See, true experts aren’t stagnant on something; they’re always evolving, always learning, and hopefully always open to the possibility that something they said the first time might not still be valid years later.

Back in February I wrote a post called Expert, Specialist, Professional Or Hack? In that post, I railed against the term because of a seminar I went to where one of the speakers had advocated herself as a social media expert, yet it turned out she knew a lot less about the subject and probably 50% of the people in the room. My mind said I didn’t want to be associated with something like that, so I have avoided the term like the plague. In thinking back on it though, I’m wondering if it’s fair to myself to dampen in some fashion the knowledge that I have attained over the years and some of the different fields I’m in. At the very least, if someone else is writing up marking materials that are promoting me for a speaking engagement or some other type of presentation, should I eschew the term or just roll with the punches?

This thought isn’t only for me. I’m betting most of you feel the same way I do about this term. Yet, if we look at some of the people we follow on other blogs, I’m betting we see some of them as experts, even if they would fight it if we called them that. Pat is obviously an expert on lavender; my friend Scott is obviously an expert on photography. Everyone else has expertise in something, whether they read about it in their blog or not. Do you find yourself running away from the term, or are you willing to embrace it when necessary, especially if it’s possible it just might be true?

Y’all have read here where I said I want to be rich and famous; a big deal if you will. Well, in this world you get to be a big deal in two ways. One, you do something spectacular that everyone sees, or two, you have expertise in something and are able to get people to notice and then pay you for. And since I don’t see myself winning Wimbledon anytime soon, I guess I’d better shoot for number two.

What are your thoughts? What will you own up to being an expert on?

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Hi Mitch

Kind of you to mention me but I must correct you here. I am not an expert in my niche, just have a passion for my small niche blog and still learning heaps. Just maybe research the subject a bit more than others so know a little more than them.

That said, i agree with you that if people call themselves experts you do have to wonder??!! Most people who are do not label themselves.

As you know Mitch on my own blog I did a post several weeks ago thanking different ones including yourself for the contributions you were all making to my blogging journey. I know no-one I mentioned was expecting what I had to say or the acknowledgment. I recognised gifts in each of you but none of you had ever told me or boasted about them. Best left to others I say.

In Aussie culture if you big note yourself it is really frowned upon. Someone would quickly pull you down a peg or two. Expert or not lol

Patricia Perth Australia

November 24th, 2010 | 10:55 AM

Pat, you’re proving my point so well! lol You are an expert in the field, even if you don’t believe you are. None of the rest of us have a clue about lavender, and you teach us so much. You can talk about it with ease and it’s amazing how much more you know and can share. Does that mean you know it all? Not at all; but compared to the rest of us who visit your blog, you’re definitely an expert. And if you can’t call yourself one, I’ll call you one. 🙂

As to the other point, Americans are sensitive to the term as well. However, there are times when we have to own up to something, or at least work on promoting it, based on what we’re trying to achieve. If I want to be a professional speaker on social media but I promote myself as someone who’s not an expert but knows something about it, who’s going to want to pay me to come speak to them? Unfortunately, that’s the nature of the beast when it comes to publicity and the like, depending on what your ultimate goals are. That’s a tough lesson to learn when you’re first starting out, but I learned that, for some of the consulting I do, I have to put out what I’ve done showing my expertise if I at least want to get noticed, let alone get the gig. It’s definitely beyond my comfort level, but it’s what has to be done sometimes, and we all probably experience it here and there.

November 24th, 2010 | 11:28 AM

Another question for you Mitch. Is being an authority in your chosen niche the same as being an expert? I would like to be the ‘go to’ person for my chosen niche that’s for sure 🙂

Patricia Perth Australia

November 24th, 2010 | 8:37 PM

Absolutely, Pat. Authority, expert, specialist… whatever suits you, it’s a great thing.

November 24th, 2010 | 9:02 PM

Mitch – Scott makes a great point about people saying their an expert in a field that is constantly changing. If you’re in a field that is always changing how can you be an expert, because this would mean you would have to keep learning yourself in order to keep up with the changes around you.

The internet is like that, it’s always changing so I guess there are no experts in the blogging/online marketing field. I will never call myself an expert, but if someone sees me as an expert on a certain subject then that’s just how they feel.

As you say experts continue to learn and are students themselves even though they may have expertise on specific aspects in their craft.

November 24th, 2010 | 12:51 PM

Great stuff, John. Actually, I tend to believe one can be an expert because they actually could know everything there is to know about something at that moment. Some things are fairly static, such as how to get along with people, whereas other things will change fast, such as social media. Still, most of us defer from the title so much that we forget to promote ourselves for our betterment.

November 24th, 2010 | 8:51 PM

Interesting post, interesting question. I suppose I’m getting to be an ‘expert’ on some areas of working in Photoshop but, as you say, one is always learning and there’s always something that one doesn’t know so does ‘expert’ actually fit? Well, compared to someone who doesn’t know how to use Photoshop at all, I’m an expert!!
But seriously, yes, I suppose I have to call myself an expert in what I want to teach or demonstrate to people and I have to have the confidence and belief in myself as well, otherwise how would they have the confidence in my abilities to teach them?

November 24th, 2010 | 4:22 PM

Great stuff, Val, and yes, you get it! I know absolutely nothing about Photoshop; I’ve never even seen the program. So you would be way more expert than myself, and as you said, most other people. That’s what it’s all about.

November 24th, 2010 | 8:54 PM

I am on the fence about the word ‘expert’ I can say if I need a transplant of any sort, I want it to be done by an expert. Me I am an expert on acting like I know everything 🙂

November 25th, 2010 | 12:28 AM

That’s funny, Karen. In actuality, most of us are probably experts at that.

November 25th, 2010 | 12:41 AM

For me an expert is someone that’s very good in his field, and has a lot of experience. Lately I’ve heard a lot of people saying that they are communication experts, and i have to admit that i don’t trust them at all. What’s that? and what a communication expert actually does? I think that’s just a big word for saying that you know to write emails, and sometimes you write posts on your blog 🙂 lol

November 25th, 2010 | 4:17 AM

That’s funny, Mia. Actually, communications could mean a bunch of different things, couldn’t it? Still, if it helps to get people work, it’s hard to condemn them, unless they turn out to not be all that good.

November 25th, 2010 | 10:03 AM

Interesting topic, post, and thoughts on the matter. I am an expert at, at … at … erm, hmmm…

Not sure. Indecision may or may not be my biggest fault, sigh…

Happy T-Day, Mitch!

Marvin D Wilson

November 25th, 2010 | 12:44 PM

Marv, you’re killing me! lol I’m sure there’s something people come to you for; I’m going to your blog to see if it’s just funny stuff.

November 25th, 2010 | 1:10 PM

Egads! Mitch – over there you will see me posing as an expert on the craft of writing! Yes, I am a professional editor, I admit it …

The problem with people nowadays is, nobody wants to take respoonsibility for their actions and words. But don’t quote me on that! 😉

November 25th, 2010 | 1:39 PM

Turns out I don’t have to quote you on that; you quoted yourself. 😉

November 25th, 2010 | 9:36 PM