Do effective shortcuts exist to becoming an expert?
Or, are things that look like shortcuts really just detours that keep us from doing what we really need to do?
We recently asked some of our favorite bloggers, entrepreneurs and all-around smart people what they thought about shortcuts to expertise.
Here’s the question we asked:
Do you believe shortcuts exist to becoming an expert on anything?
If so, can you share one powerful shortcut? If not, why don’t you think shortcuts exist?
There was some interesting disagreement in the answers we received. Read on to see what our experts thought about shortcuts.
Then, we’d love to hear your answer to the same question in the comments below.
Jump to an expert shortcut here (or just scroll down to read all the answers):
Seth Godin, Lori Deschene, Leo Babauta, Marie Forleo, Chris Guillebeau, Pat Flynn, Adam Baker, Tammy Strobel, Joshua Millburn, Karol Gajda, Jonathan Mead, Gary Arndt, Alexis Martin Neeley, Everett Bogue, Michael Bungay Stanier, Colin Wright, Benny Lewis, Laura Roeder, Charlie Gilkey, Derek Halpern, Steve Kamb, Danielle LaPorte, Scott Dinsmore
You can follow this entire list of experts on Twitter.
Seth Godin, Author of 13 Bestselling Books
There aren’t shortcuts.
Merely direct paths.
Most people don’t take them, because they frighten us.
Things that look like shortcuts are usually detours disguised as less work.
Lori Deschene, Founder of Tiny Buddha
Do you believe shortcuts exist to becoming an expert on anything?
I think a better question is: Why would we want there to be?
The way I see it, expertise is something you develop over time, while committing yourself to a path that you’re, hopefully, passionate and excited about. It is knowledge gained through consistent action, meaning it’s the byproduct of a process that has purpose beyond the goal of becoming a thought leader.
Looking for a shortcut to becoming an expert is consenting to skip the most useful and satisfying part — the learning and the growing. And it’s also choosing to focus on becoming the top in your field, instead of focusing on what exactly you want to do in that field—and why.
Shortcuts may exist, depending on how you define “expert” and what exactly it is that you are trying to achieve. Whether or not those shortcuts are fulfilling and conducive to our actual desires and goals — that’s a different story!
Leo Babauta, Creator of Zen Habits
I don’t believe in shortcuts, as most people looking for shortcuts just want quick results … but I do believe in simplicity. If you simplify things, it will seem like you’ve found a miraculous shortcut.
Three simple but powerful ways to become an expert: 1) lower the bar of expertise, so you only have to be better than the general population; 2) narrow the area of expertise, so instead of knowing everything about cocktail making, you just learn to make an incredible Old Fashioned; and 3) simplify your method of doing whatever you want to do, so you don’t have to learn 100 steps, just 5.
Marie Forleo, best-selling author, speaker and entrepreneur
Working your ass off is the fastest way to excel in any endeavor in business or life. Some people have innate strengths that can speed progress, but true experts cultivate their wisdom over time through dedication, real-life experience, and a ton of hard work.
I’d be careful about trusting my business or life with an expert who was focused more on shortcuts than simply doing the work. Of course, doing the work can reveal efficiencies and “short cuts” per se, but I’ve never witnessed a master of any craft who used “shortcuts” to get to the top of her game.
Chris Guillebeau, writer, fighter of status quo
Do shortcuts exist to everything? Perhaps not, because someone could always think of an example where a prescribed path needs to be followed. But do shortcuts exist to almost anything? Definitely. Look at everyone who dropped out of college to start a business or skipped levels in a traditional career path.
One powerful shortcut: always think about your desired outcomes, NOT the path that “everyone” usually takes to achieve them. Then, think backwards — what do you really need to do to achieve these outcomes? In many cases, there’s an alternative path to expertise.
Pat Flynn, Smart Passive Income
The real shortcut to expertise is experience, and it’s no coincidence that the first part of each of those two words are the same.
Expertise isn’t found in books, courses or workshops and things like that. It’s found by actually doing things, and the shortcut comes from getting off of learning information and getting into real life experience.
Adam Baker, Creator of Man Vs. Debt
For me, there are two key shortcuts (or shifts in mindset) that can help:
- Realizing “expert” is relative. You don’t have to be the best in the world at something to help someone. There are many levels of experts. Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not, but (at the same time) you can start helping people very early in your own journey as you grow.
- Believing deep down it’s really possible. In other words, confidence in yourself. Most people I meet that fail and give up, never really seemed to have the confidence or believe that it was possible in the first place. Whenever I start a new initiative, I first make sure I really believe it’s possible for me to “become an expert” or accomplish that task.
Everett Bogue, Nomadic Writer and Technology Experimenter
I discovered that I was a writer by trying everything else first. I tried to be a dancer, guitarist, journalist, web designer, photo editor, photographer, graphic illustrator, writer, and yoga teacher.
Is it a shortcut? I’ll let you decide.
In the summer of 2009, I was unhappy, sitting at a desk in New York getting paid too little to work as a photo editor at New York Magazine. I was taking smoking breaks every 15 minutes and drinking myself to sleep almost every night. Something wasn’t working, but I wasn’t sure what.
So I started untethering. I quit my job. I quit smoking. I threw out almost all of my Things. Then I booked a ticket from New York to Portland, OR. I had less than $3,000 in the bank. I was running out of money, fast.
In Portland, I immediately started experimenting. Every day, I sent out resumes, I posted ads on craigslist, I pitched real humans on different services that I could possibly offer them. I quickly found that I wasn’t going to make a living by getting a job, being a professional photographer, or designing people’s websites. Why? No would pay me to do these things.
Then I started writing on the Internet. Almost immediately people began to pay for my work.
Is this a shortcut?:
Give yourself no other options.
Experiment, measure, untether.
Over and over again.
Until something works.
Tammy Strobel, Writer, Tiny House Enthusiast
In my experience there are no shortcuts. Becoming an expert in writing, photography, painting, business, or any other field for that matter takes time and hard work. As Steven Pressfield said in The War of Art, “The muse honors the working stiff.”
For example, I started RowdyKittens.com in 2007 and in the beginning the blog sucked. My writing wasn’t clear and I wasn’t clear on what I was trying to accomplish in the digital world. In short, I was starting to learn the ropes of blogging, social media, and more importantly how to write.
Now it’s 2011 and I feel like RowdyKittens is in decent shape. Refining and growing my writing skills took time, effort, and determination.
Joshua Fields Millburn, Writer and Minimalist
The truth is that there are plenty of people who are experts in whatever you’re interested in pursuing. These people put in a lot of work, experienced many debilitating failures and losses, and followed their beacons of passion until they were, alas, experts. Why not learn from those people first?
If you want to learn how to become an expert at anything, the fastest, most efficient way to do so is to emulate someone who is already doing it. That’s what I did in the corporate world when I became the youngest regional manager in my company’s 140-year history at age 24. I did it again at 27 when I became the company’s youngest director. And yet again when I quit my six-figure job at 29 to pursue my passions.
When it came to running a successful website, I learned from people like Corbett Barr, Leo Babauta, and Colin Wright, and within nine months built a website with more than 100,000 monthly readers. I established connections with dozens of new people (viz. experts), met them face to face (even though they lived thousands of miles away), and I learned from their experiences. I bought them coffee or lunch and offered to add value in any way I could. And I listened a lot—I took copious notes and thanked them for adding value to my life. After meeting enough experts, it was clear to me what we needed to do to successfully turn our passions into our mission—that’s how I became, dare I say, an expert.
Karol Gajda, Writer, Rebel, Freedom Fighter
Yes and no. And it really depends on the definition of shortcut. Is a shortcut overnight? Is it 1 year? Is it in half the time of a non-shortcut route?
Let’s take something like playing guitar. A shortcut to get good fast is to play with guitarists who are better than you. Another shortcut is to learn from a phenomenal guitarist on a one-on-one level. But even so there is still a learning curve. Muscle memory, finger dexterity, and general technical prowess won’t just happen. There may be some shortcuts to playing faster or more clearly, but these technical things are where you still need to put in work.
In other words, learning from an expert is the best and fastest way to become an expert yourself, but that doesn’t mean it can or will happen over night.
Jonathan Mead, Trailblazer and Creator of Illuminated Mind
Yes, there are “shortcuts” but they’re really more what appear to be shortcuts. The fastest way I know of to become an expert is to teach, completely immerse yourself, and surround yourself with other world-class experts. Before long others will start asking you how you were able to reach the level you’re at so quickly, while they’ve remained stuck and frustrated.
Gary Arndt, World Traveler and Author of Everything Everywhere
I don’t think there are shortcuts. If there were, then the concept of expertise wouldn’t exist. Expertise is derived from the word experience and experience implies that you have dedicated significant time into something.
Also, expertise isn’t binary. It isn’t an issue of having or not having it. It is all relative. Time and experience makes you more of an expert. If you took a short cut, you’d still have less experience than someone who has been doing something for decades.
The only way a shortcut can exist is if there is a technical change which allows you to do more in less time. A great example is in poker. It takes about 10,000 hands of poker to compete at a high level. It used to be that those 10,000 hands took place one at a time at a poker table. Now those 10,000 hands can be played much faster and simultaneously by playing online. You still need to play the same amount of poker, it is just that technology has changed how quickly it can be done.
Alexis Martin Neeley, Truth Telling Lawyer and Evolutionary Strategist
There is one shortcut to becoming an expert — lots of trial and failure as quickly as possible. Try something, when it doesn’t work, learn from it, get back up and try again taking as many risks as possible so you can get through the failures to the successes. Learn from every attempt and recalibrate. You can become an expert without trial and failure, but it’s the long road of study and training and even then you may never reach the mastery that trial and failure will bring you.
Michael Bungay Stanier, author of Do More Great Work
I saw a t-shirt once about writing a PhD. It said “I know more and more about less and less, until finally I know everything about nothing.”
I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two types of expertise. One is the type you already know – content expertise, immersing yourself deeper and deeper in a subject, practicing for 10,000 hours and all of that.
But I think there’s a connection expertise too. That comes from going horizontal rather than vertical. It’s about knowing a little about a lot, and finding wisdom in how things connect in new and different ways.
I’m not sure about short-cuts to the first type of expertise – I’m not an expert in anything, so clearly I’ve not found them if they do exist – but the fast track the second type is about exploring the different tendrils of what’s interesting and what you’re curious about. For instance, I’m reading about books that are non-fiction (neuroscience, media, gaming, biographies) and also fiction (Young Adult, Australian contemporary, classic Russian). And out of that eclectic combination arises a unique speciality, connections only I’ve made.
Colin Wright, author, brand consultant, full-time traveler
No one wants to hear that their surgeon took shortcuts in med school, whereas they might be thrilled to find out that their surgeon was the top of their class and graduated early as a result of their skills (which were quickly fine-tuned using some clever process or training regimen).
One shortcut that I use when starting up a new venture is what I call a ‘taste test.’
It’s common practice to build a minimum viable product when you’re building a new application or website, but what I like to do is start with the brand and concept and then try that out with people who I consider part of my target audience. If the brand pulls them in, then they’re much more likely to get excited about the project and get their friends and audience involved when I release a MVP or beta version. If not, I can move on to something new.
The reason this saves time and resources is that I’m able to tell right away whether or not the concept has the potential to start a movement, rather than just being a good idea. Good ideas are easy to come by, but in order to mobilize an audience for a good idea, you need to know that the concept is an exciting one from the get-go. Taste testing allows me to have a fully-mobile audience around from day one, which then helps me iterate the project much faster than I would otherwise have been capable of.
Benny Lewis, Language Hacking Expert
Shortcuts to becoming an expert may sound like a pipedream or smell of snake oil, but there’s another way to think of it. Being called an expert depends way less on what you actually know and way more on people’s impression of you. When you stroll into a situation and confidently assert your thoughts on the situation and have a charming personality, you can become the expert for that group, even when you consider yourself to have average knowledge.
Because of this, many “experts” you talk to, will actually not like that title at all and will retort with humble references about how they are just sharing what they know. While some expertise does require university credentials, the vast majority that we take seriously actually requires someone to be a leader and to make tough choices, and to do it within a particular focused field. And in fact, the biggest criteria of them all is experience.
I have personally prided myself in trying to get “my hands dirty” as much as I can in subjects like travel and language learning, by simply throwing myself in the deep end and trying to learn how to swim and sharing my story of those attempts. People ask me for advice all the time in this area – I am no more qualified than anyone else, but I took that initial first leap, and many times you have to inspire enough confidence in those listening to you to encourage them to do the same.
To become an expert, all you have to do is get busy and be public about it. Whether you are world renowned, or appreciated only by half a dozen, it doesn’t matter. From there you have the potential to help so much more.
Laura Roeder, social media and branding expert
Anyone can quickly become an expert by reading books on a topic. However, experience and expertise are two different things. Experience takes time, but expertise can easily come quickly with research.
Charlie Gilkey, Small business adviser, writer, speaker
The two main things that tend to accelerate the development of expertise are a) actually practicing and cultivating your expertise and b) having an external guide, coach, or co-mentor to provide feedback. Many people wait too long to get started cultivating their expertise and instead either don’t educate themselves or over-educate themselves without practicing it. For example, if you want to be a coach, reading about it will only take you so far. The same is true for any endeavor, whether it be writing, programming, marketing, designing, or underwater basketweaving. (Note: do not read that as encouragement not to learn your craft – hit the books AND the street.)
And, when you look at peak-performing experts, you’ll often see that they have either coaches, involved mentors, or a pack of growth-oriented friends that help them excel. You simply can’t gauge your performance as well as someone external can, and, past the “competent” stage of skill acquisition, it gets increasingly harder to both observe what you’re doing and find quick and easy answers as to how to improve.
So, if you want to become an expert faster: hit the streets with your knowledge and enlist some external guides to help you accelerate.
Derek Halpern, expert marketer and serial web entrepreneur
There’s one shortcut to becoming an expert that works. Read books, and lots of ’em. When you consume, and digest the teachings from a book, you’re essentially spending 3-6 hours learning information that took MONTHS to compile. And in some cases, YEARS to experience.
Steve Kamb, Rebel Leader of Nerd Fitness
I think online there are far too many self-proclaimed “experts” these days that actually have no clue what they’re doing. These people generally exist in the “make money online” or “social media” space, where expertise is certainly a relative term – they go with the “fake it til you make it” method of pretending like they’re experts until enough people believe them and give them money until they can actually justify that they are experts (which is still relative).
I’m not a big fan of this type of an “expert shortcut,” even though it works for many people. My conscience wouldn’t allow me to sleep well at night knowing I was pretending to be something I ‘m not.
Personally, I found a different approach worked far better – letting people know that I WASN’T an expert, but that I WAS the go-to guy for beginners. Allow me to explain – Let’s say you’re an 3 on a scale of 1-10 as far as your expertise goes in a certain field. Rather than pretending you’re a ten – which is dishonest and can get you in a heap of trouble depending on how much you’re faking – instead work on becoming an expert to the 1’s and 2’s…to them you ARE an expert. Now, as you get more readers, clients, and customers…your level of expertise can slowly climb to 4, 5, 6 while you learn more and do more reearch…and so on. As it climbs, you can become an expert to a larger group of people.
So, don’t worry about becoming a 10 in your field, or waiting to take any action until you are a 10. Become proficient, and then put your focus on helping those who are below you. This will allow you to take action more quickly, help out more people, and start climbing your way up the expert ladder while still providing an honest and valuable service.
Danielle LaPorte, Fire Starter and Intuitive Business Advisor
Mentors flatten your learning curve. Asking for advice from bonafide experts can save you heartache and big bucks (so do it…ask, and keep asking. Be sure to ask why people made the decisions they made.) Immersing yourself in situations that you are unqualified to handle is a sure way to expedite expertise development. When it’s sink or swim, you’re incredibly motivated to become expert at something.
But there are no short cuts to initiation, especially for entrepreneurs. You will have to launch. You must decide to rise. You will lose. You will doubt yourself. You will surprise yourself. It can happen quickly and intensively, or slow ‘n steady over time, but experience has to be accumulated, it can’t downloaded or inherited. Expertise is earned.
Scott Dinsmore, Adventurer, value investor, and personal freedom coach
Absolutely they exist! In fact it seems like the only way to be successful is to use them in some way (because if you’re not, others are). Especially in today’s world. You could spend four years going to university on marketing or you could just find the five best people in the world and spend six months (or much shorter) learning and modeling everything about them. Do that and you’ll likely have more practical expertise than a PhD in the same subject.
Same goes for sports. Last year I went out and ran an ultra-marathon after only doing three training runs the two weeks prior of 10, 14 and 15 miles (and the 15 mi was the longest I’d ever run). Prior to that I read Born to Run (for inspiration) and studied Chi Running (for style) to become expert enough to cross the finish line…and I did. Most people wouldn’t think to sign up because the traditional world says you need to train for 4-6 months for something like that. If you’re going to shortcut expertise, at least enough to accomplish a goal, you absolutely must stop listening to what ‘they’ say. Find the few who have done it. Model them, and don’t look back.
Do you believe shortcuts exist to becoming an expert?