Let’s Talk About The Word “Expert”

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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Expert, Specialist, Professional Or Hack?

Last night I went to a local networking event that turned into a presentation. It was put on by a group called Syracuse First, an organization whose initiative is to get people to buy and spend their money locally to enhance the area. Supposedly, studies have been shown that when you spend your money with local companies, they tend to put 73% of it back into the community, whereas spending money at large places such as Walmart sends money out of your state and into other people’s pockets. It’s a great initiative.

Anyway, the networking event also turned into a presentation on social media, which I wasn’t expecting, but it wasn’t all that bad. One of the presenters, a buddy of mine named Paddy (no, not his real name), who runs a company and blog called ODX Fusion, began his portion by saying he wasn’t an expert, because most of social media was new and there were so many outlets that there was no way one person could actually know them all. He announced that instead he was a professional because he helped his clients figure out how to use certain social media outlets to their advantage.

My wife was there with me and she asked me if I was an expert. I told her I wasn’t an expert, but considered myself as a specialist. However, I realized that on my SEO website I list myself as an internet marketing consultant for small businesses, and that I do a lot of what my friend Paddy does. And yeah, he’s higher than me on Google for the term locally; have to work on that (I’m higher on Yahoo and Bing, though). lol

Overall, I was thinking that, in a way, it doesn’t matter all that much what we call ourselves. There are really two things that matter. One, how proficient are we in the things we do know, so that we can tell our readers and potential customers how to use these things to their advantage. Two, can we live up to whatever perception it is that we decide to allow others to have of us, whether we say we’re this or that or not.

For instance, among my friends I’m the computer / internet / social media expert; there’s not even a question in most of their minds. Yet, I’ve never told anyone I was an expert at anything. Sure, there’s a lot of stuff I can do. I’ve fixed a lot of computers and come up with some ingenious things every once in awhile, but there are things such as never replacing a motherboard or power source that I’ve never done. I don’t consider those as acceptable risks I want to be liable for, even though I’ve pretty much done everything else. Last week my wife’s hard drive just up and quit, and none of the tricks I knew worked, including putting it in the freezer. No information retrieval, and unlike my computer hers had never been backed up; I wasn’t feeling all that much of an expert last week.

Every once in awhile I wonder how I can call myself a social media specialist when there are so many new things out there that I don’t even know about, let alone know how to use. I mean, have you checked out Ching Ya’s blog and seen some of the things she talks about? Wow!

Then I come back to the reality that I know about a lot of them, at least in passing, and made a determination that it wasn’t a direction I personally wanted to go. Kind of like in my post the other day on creatures of our generations, I’ve determined that my own sensibilities just don’t fit certain things. Yet, I do know about them, and if I’m talking to a client or potential client I mention these things, give an unbiased opinion on them unless they ask me if I use them, in which case I tell the truth, and let them make their own decisions about it.

I can build website, but I know nothing about flash. I’ve often wondered if that negates my claim of being able to do all sorts of websites until I realized that the reason I’ve never learned flash is because I’m not a designer. In other words, I can create functional websites and I can suggest colors and maybe a few different layouts. But if someone wanted a fancy splash page, or wanted a cool template, that’s beyond my mental capabilities.


Rolling Hills
Rolling Hills

As a kid, I drew two types of pictures all the time. One was my belief of what an idyllic scene would be, with a rolling hill, a sun in the corner, V-birds in the sky with a couple of clouds, a few trees, a pond, maybe a couple of flowers, and a house with one door and one big window in the middle on the second level; that’s what comes from never living in a house. The other was where I’d take my ruler and just draw straight lines, sometimes intersecting, sometimes not, then coloring each box I had left with different colors until every box had a new color. And there was a mathematical progression in it all, such that one day I put 5 of them together and was amazed at how close they all were to each other. Shame. 🙂

In your normal day, no matter what you do or how many things you do, how do you look at yourself? Do you even try to classify yourself? How do you perceive others see you? And finally, what are you ready to try to live up to?
 

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