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Respect my authority

September 22, 2010

My last real blog post (I did post a photo Friday, but the intellectual capital spent was limited) was about knowing your niche. So I realize I look a little narrow in focus to make my next post about the issue of authority – or how exactly one gets the designation of being an “authority” on any given topic. But, often one blog post leads to another and so it is here.

When last we met I wrote about knowing your niche and why it’s good to embrace your expertise and not adhere to the jack-of-all-trades philosophy. Very closely associated with the know-it-all marketer is the expert or “authority.” Just what it takes to be an authority in any topic is up for debate, and in today’s day of degrees on demand and resumes that read like a creative writing assignment, the qualifications seem to be getting increasingly blurry. I don’t think that articles with headlines like “How to Become an Expert on Nearly Any Subject” help, even if there’s some merit to the points suggested. (And based on how many Google searches there are for the subject of how to be an expert, it seems like many people are looking to the Internet for the answer to that question).

Now, there are some conventional ways to prove expertise – professional associations, certifications and credentials ranging from employment experience to degrees attained – can prove one’s professional chops. But it’s also true that in an increasingly skeptical Internet age accepting the conventional proof isn’t always enough. As someone who has encountered her share of posers (social media experts and otherwise), I wanted to toss out a few tips on how to spot an “expert.”

1. They’ve done something. Maybe this is my midwestern upbringing talking but it’s really tough for me to appreciate someone as an expert if they can’t point to a portfolio of things they’ve done that pertain to their subject they’re talking about. And it had best not be vague, and managing doesn’t count. Tell me what you, physically, hands in the dirt did as it pertains to this topic, and then I’ll value your expertise. My belief in the value of doing something is why I always have a certain skepticism for academia (you know, the those who don’t do, teach, types). That’s not to say there aren’t great professors out there in universities, but hopefully they’re taking the time for practical experience and regular sabbaticals to apply their expertise.

2. They know people. That’s not to say that experts can’t be antisocial (I love the eccentric “nutty” professor). But if you can’t verify expertise with outside sources (and by sources, I mean people – real ones, who are living and breathing today), than you might have a problem. Knowledge certainly can exist in stovepipes (just ask anyone working in government), but real expertise is meant to be shared among communities, and I think you’ll find most experts can’t keep to themselves.

3. They’re up for a challenge. A good authority can take a hit and remain standing. In fact, I find that most experts enjoy a bit of an intellectual jousting match every now and then. It keeps one’s ideas limber. When someone can’t handle being challenged, or can’t handle being in the same room with another expert in their field, than perhaps they have reason to be nervous.

But I’m not going to lie to ya – I’m not an authority on the subject of what makes an expert. :) I’m just another friendly Internet observer. I’d rather hear your thoughts, so drop me a comment with what you think – what makes an expert?

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One Comment leave one →
  1. September 22, 2010 9:07 pm

    To what extent would an “expert” be modest about being an expert? Thoughts?

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