How to pick an expert

Extracted and updated from – from Raising Talent


People using the Raising Talent system are challenged to find a variety of experts in various fields and create a virtual or actual “A-Team” of expertise to stretch their thinking and further their progression towards their dream.  The challenge is that it’s hard to pick an expert in a field you don’t have much knowledge of – here  is a strategy on how to do that.

Circle of experts

Core principles

Holders of expert knowledge are not always expert at helping others learn that expert knowledge.

These are two separate skills. Knowing something at an expert level and being able to teach that expert content is not the same thing. Ideally you want both, but if you can only get expert knowledge you will just have to work harder to understand it and here your ability to learn effectively and quickly is a key skill worth developing further.

Many of us learn through our metaphor for learning. Check yours and update/enhance it if necessary

Does your metaphor enhance or detract from your learning? If your metaphor for learning is that of a detective, who needs to analyze all the clues before making a decision, your learning will be slow, but once you have learnt something it is there forever. My (TG) metaphor for learning is a sieve. Anything anyone has to say goes into the sieve to be considered. Expert or Beginner, qualified or not, it all goes into the sieve. Everything is considered. What passes through the sieve into my mind has two initial criteria. Does it make sense OR does it work? Many great ideas are rejected out of hand because they ‘don’t make sense’ If it makes sense and it doesn’t work there is an application error, if it works and doesn’t make sense there is an error in my thinking or mindset – what have I rejected or not considered that I now need to? Once it has gone through that filter, the last filter – does this fit with my values and ethics? Even if it doesn’t, I need to understand it so I don’t automatically disrespect the people who chose to use this info. Looking at how your metaphor affects your experience of learning is a specialist area Penny Tompkins and James Lawley have been part of pioneering, they wrote an interesting article in 2000 called “Learning metaphors” In that article they share,

“There is a very simple way to discover your student’s metaphors for learning — just ask them: ‘And when you’re learning, that’s learning like what?’ ‘Whatever answer they give can be further developed by asking:

“And is there anything else about that ‘X’?”   (And is there anything else about that sieve?)

“And what kind of ‘X’ is that ‘X’?” (And what kind of sieve is that sieve?)

[Where X’ is the metaphorical or symbolic part of the answer to the original question.]

Here are six examples of different metaphors Tompkins and Lawley discovered from 6 different students: Learning is like ….

1. A Savings account — I invest the time to accumulate data and information until there is enough interest that I can roll it over into the next idea.

2 Switching on a light bulb — It’s not until the light switches on that I have an insight or an ‘ah ha’.

3. Playing cards — I divide things into four categories and look for patterns across the suits until the logic and meaning emerges and I know which card to play.

4. Being a detective — It’s all about uncovering the facts, looking for clues and asking the right questions until the whole mystery makes sense.

5. A quest — I’m searching for that illusive something and every step I take brings me closer to what I need to know, but I never get there … it’s a continuous journey.

6. Planting flowers — A seed is planted in my mind which I nurture with water and sun in the faith that it will sprout and grow.

Tompkins and Lawley share, “They [the learning metaphors] also suggest some interesting contrasts. For example the ‘savings account’ student steadily accumulates knowledge, whereas no learning will appear to be happening for the ‘light bulb’ student until the light is switched on. The ‘playing cards’ student presumably wants all the cards dealt so they can start looking for patterns, but giving the ‘detective’ student all the relevant information in advance will probably take the fun out of their investigation. The student on a ‘quest’ needs to discover new things at each step of their journey, while the ‘planting flowers’ student will want to stay with and continually tend the seed of an idea.” If your metaphor is limiting you in terms of the quality or speed of your learning, you can develop a new more enhancing metaphor.

There are two primary types of Experts 

The traditional expert is someone who is focused on one subject or area exclusively (or almost exclusively.) This was the expert that predominated before the information age. The second type of expert is The Sequencer or the Collector expert, this is the expert who sorts through other experts work to thread together cutting edge ideas and link previously unseen and unnoticed compatible ideas. This type of expert is best typified by Malcolm Gladwell. There is also an emergent Hybrid Expert, an example of this being Tim Ferriss, who in his blog and remarkable and insightful books, The four hour work week and the The four hour body has turned his life into one big experiment to further the best ideas he can find. The emergent hybrid expert combines the best of both the traditional expert and the sequencer, but these types of expert are rare.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, he references some of K. Anders Ericsson’s work, who identified that, a traditional expert, or to be more accurate someone who has attained mastery in their field has spent on average 10 000 hours practicing or more to be masterful, or roughly 10 focused years on one subject. More recently David Epstein in his book, The Sports Gene has seriously challenged the 10 000 hour rule, and uses the amazing high jumping story of Stefan Holm and Donald Thomas as an illustration. In 2007 Holm arrived at the World Championships with close to 20 000 hours of practice, and Thomas arrived having barely trained any high jump at all – he had discovered the sport 8 months earlier, courtesy of a dare at his college. He discovered that he could indeed do high jump, (even with poor technique) and then proceeded to become World Champion later that year. Based on these new learning’s and insights there are some emerging distinctions about the 10 000 hour rule.

• Ericsson’s original research was based on a group of talented musicians already displaying enough ability to be accepted into an elite music school – so there seems to be a bare minimum threshold of ability before you can apply the rule, or in this case guideline

• The “one pager” description of the 10 000 hour rule that is widely reported on doesn’t take into account any cross-training benefit from other related fields/sports

• Its hard to measure the quality of practice – in Raising Talent we ask the question “Is it stretch practice or comfort zone/distracted practice?” Only stretch practices move you forward

• For whatever reason, in some fields people with 20000 hours of reported practice are still WAY OFF becoming an expert– that reason could be quality of practice, genetic potential, mindset, learning strategy, mental block or any number of other factors.

• The Raising Talent approach is to focus on creating and maintaining high quality beliefs about every facet of your passion/sport/domain and then combining that with high quality technique, learning and self esteem development. This supports an individual finding their true level of potential, rather than your potential minus mental and technique blockages.

In Outliers Malcolm Gladwell referenced The Beatles (music), Bobby Fisher (chess), Bill Joy (computer programming), Bill Gates (computer programming) as examples of  the 10 000 hours rule – these are all ‘traditional experts.’ What Gladwell the sequencer didn’t mention in his book was the learning strategies that were required to become expert. Every one of the experts quoted was given direct and immediate feedback on what was working or not working as they learnt and improved. For the Beatles it was the crowd response and feedback when they were playing 7 days a week and as much as 12 hours a day in Germany. For Bobby Fisher, he either won or lost and for Joy and Gates, their program either compiled and worked or didn’t. We believe this is one of the reasons why chess and music have more performers peak after 10 000 hours then the likes of golf and football, as the latter sports don’t have measurable steps and stages in the same defined way as music and chess. There are numerous examples of people who have spent 20 years on just one thing, and by no stretch of the imagination are they experts.

An expert is enthusiastic about their subject matter. To spend 10 years (and most often, more years than that) dedicating yourself to something and getting maximum value you got to love it! Does your expert love what they are talking about?

Both the traditional expert and Sequencer expert need to be expert learners. Before the information age a traditional expert could sometimes get away with just learning from his/her own experiences, but even those cases are very rare, they are more often the case of being informed by previous great thinkers, and not collaborating with others after a certain stage rather than 100% self learners. The modern expert learner (the true nature of the Sequencer Expert) needs to do both, be informed and collaborate, or else in the information age you will be left behind. Some traditional experts get stuck in a certain dogma or style of thinking, which will limit him or her in a very specific way which can be difficult to overcome, simply because they are not challenging their own thinking and assumptions.

Expert learners don’t let their ego get in the way of their learning, they can be wrong and can own up to it, they will also tell you what areas they are not expert in. These traits fast track their own learning.

An expert is not tied to one specific dogma/thinker/methodology/style – they create their own hybrids and specialize in that hybrid. They may prefer one methodology or hybrid and that in itself is not a negative – the negative is when they don’t challenge their own process, thinking or method. Every field of study is constrained by the assumptions of that field – by reading outside of their field an expert can see things from a different perspective and use that perspective to take the next logical leap in his or her own field. The key way to ascertain if your expert is dogmatic is to ask them about the weaknesses in their own content/style/dogma/methodology. Their response will tell you all you need to know, regardless of what words they use. Due to the collaborative requirement of the information age, a modern expert (traditional or sequencer) will be able to tell you who are the people that informed their thinking and who are the people they are currently working/collaborating with.

An expert rides the continuum between simplicity and details. For the masterful, truly the mastery is in the details. This kind of detail is not for details sake, it is just the ability to know each and every important and relevant aspect about what you are talking about, so when you simplify you know what to include and what to not include, and if required to you can get to the detail to make a point or answer a question. An expert is constantly testing and retesting their models and ideas to find new distinctions and perspectives, experimentation leads to learning. Great learners are great experimenters.

Only the ignorant or the expert can make things simple. They can break things down to their core components, and conceptualize what they are talking about. At an expert teacher level, they can use the words you used in your question to clarify their points whilst giving you a simple answer.

Experts very seldomly speak in absolutes – they don’t think that they have the answer¸ they just have their best answer so far. When you think you have the ultimate solution, you stop thinking critically on how to improve and adapt it.

An expert knows and acknowledges how little they know, and how much more there is to find out! If you come across an expert use the above points above to work out what you may be dealing with.

Tip: In the context of High Performance, it is more useful to learn from experts who have studied exceptional cases (or outliers), rather than research based from studying the average, or the norm. The exceptional cases will hold specific ideas that haven’t been diluted by the average and will more closely fit the requirements of another exceptional case – a High Performance athlete.

In a nutshell, consider anything spoken by someone who is humble, enthusiastic, can speak simply – whilst sharing relevant detail and stories of their experiment’s.  This person will share where they got their knowledge from whilst acknowledging their own learning’s and limitations. Not all experts will have all of these attributes, it’s just something to consider when considering his or her work.