Tuesday, February 21, 2006

wondering: does expertise make you an expert?

There's something to be said for paying attention to what others regard as your areas of expertise. For example: in a superfecta of happenstance, no fewer than four individuals today asked me to help them with tasks that were essentially very similar from my perspective.

When you can point to a confluence of evidence relating to how others see your skills, you start to describe your area(s) of expertise in a practical way. You are not what others say you are - but when you start to read some consistency into what others seek you out to do, it's worth paying attention.

I'm thinking this because I was reading through resumes today and I came upon someone who described himself as an "expert" in yadda yadda, I forget exactly what. Wow, I thought, that takes some cajones to put that in writing. But who's to say he's not an expert? Does it mean he knows everything, or that he has an attitude problem, or maybe he's Just That Good?

I wondered for a little while what I'd want to be expert in. Not just conversant, or capable, or even well-acquainted. Expert. Then I'd put it on my resume, in bold. Maybe even get t-shirts and mugs printed up for good measure with my name and chosen area of expertise on them (for publicity and Christmas gifts).

And if I was a real expert, an uberexpert, I'd be able to convince folks to refer to me as "Bob the [Blank] Expert", a designated savant, a man of obvious competency who is recognized as such by weight of general acclaim.

(John Hodgman's take on this concept is well worth exploring. Especially his litany of Hobo names. All good stories can benefit from a well-named hobo.)

Then I realized that we don't like experts. Experts are self-important, arrogant clods. They have tunnel-vision. They have personal grooming problems. They have a core of meanness that won't quit. And gawd-forbid you challenge them in their area of expertise, for they will go out of their way to humiliate you in front of your mom to prove that they are The Expert and you. . . you would do well to hire a squad of gypsies to render you into lard, toot-sweet.

So much for being an expert. But if you play down your expertise, are you arguing for your limitations? How do you balance expertise with humility? Should you?

Time for some ladies figure skating.

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