Tag Archives: knowledge worker

How To Become an Expert in 3 Steps

Becoming an authority in your field

I love speaking in public and my dream is to become a professional speaker. But after reading Jane Atkinson’s The Wealthy Speaker 2.0 and talking with some professionals, I’ve realized I first need to get serious about honing my expertise.

So how do you become an expert fast?

Here’s my recipe in three steps (this is the summary of a video I published a few years ago).

  1. Master your topic
  2. Find your voice
  3. Get noticed

Before embarking on this project, you need to realize that an expertise is a relative thing. After a couple years of practice for instance, you could be an expert in the eyes of first-timers, while career professionals might still see you as a beginner.

One rule of thumb says an expert is someone who knows more than 95% of people in the field.

  1. Master your topic

First, you need to pick a niche and focus all your energy on it. The narrower you go, the faster your expertise will emerge. For example, in The End of Jobs, Taylor Pearson tells the story of a guy who became the world’s leading authority on duck blind construction after publishing an e-book on the topic. Some call this micro-specializing.

(I know, in this blog, I don’t practice what I preach; that’s because I’ve got a special blogging strategy)

Depending on your current level of expertise, experience and motivation, this first step may take between one and three years (or more if you adhere to the 10 000-hour rule). The key is to follow a regular and strict program with the right mix of theory and practice.

  1. Find your voice

Second, you need to stand out and find your own voice. Your value as an expert comes from not only your knowledge and experience, but more specifically from your opinion and perspective. And the more different and original these are, the more value your expertise.

In other words, an expert must be a leader with a clear and personal vision. What defines experts is the way their thoughts are organized, and the fastest track to get there is to write a book. I know it sounds like a big job, but see it as writing a long term paper. You can do it within a year.

  1. Get noticed

Finally, you need to get noticed, and that means promoting your expertise. You can’t be an authority in anything if nobody knows you even exist.

Fortunately, the web makes this step easier. You should build an authority website and/or blog, speak whenever you can (clubs, libraries, seminars, etc.), generate press and PR, and create your social media real estate (Fred Gleeck).

How long before you get some attention? If you got steps 1 and 2 right, marketing and positioning yourself as an expert can be done within a year.

As you can see, you could become an expert in your field in less than five years. There are no shortcuts though; it takes hard work, focus and dedication. But it’s the best way to amplify your value and that of society in general.

This is what peak learning is all about.

Why I’ve Decided To Be A Generalist (For Now)

the bird's eye view of a generalist

My blogging strategy goes against the advice of most experts.

A blog should stick to one topic and target one audience, right? As Blog Expert Jonathan Milligan puts it, you first need to decide who you want to help and how to help them. Focus is key.

But, as you might have noticed, I’m doing the exact opposite here. My current strategy is to tackle the big field of learning from all possible angles.

Learning is my passion, and I want to explore all its facets. In other words, I want to look at it through the eyes of

  • a knowledge worker
  • a manager
  • a teacher
  • a student
  • a parent
  • a child
  • a psychologist
  • a biologist
  • an economist
  • an anthropologist
  • etc.

With my Liberal Arts education, I’m a generalist by trade, and there are clear advantages to that.

First, it’s easier for generalists to be creative. Knowing a little about a lot provides us with a big picture and enables us to draw more connections. In this interconnected world, some even say the future belongs to generalists.

Also, according to a study that analyzed more than 80 000 forecasters, generalists are able to predict the future more accurately than specialists. That’s because specialists are often prisoners of their single perspective. In an unpredictable world like ours, the generalist may again have an edge here.

That being said, you can’t afford not to be a specialist either. For obvious reasons. When you have a problem, do you go see an expert or a jack-of-all-trades?

So where does this leave me?

My strategy is to continue exploring as many aspects of learning as possible till I’ve published 100 posts. This will give me a better grasp of this massive topic and enable me to test my options before I start narrowing them down.

Then I’ll select one specific area and drill down through it. I’m already pretty sure of the direction I’ll take, but I‘d rather carry on with my exploration before revealing anything here.

What’s the lesson for peak learners?

You’ve got to find the right balance between being a generalist and a specialist. After becoming an expert at something, you’ll see how your generalist skills will really grow in value.

The question is how to go about this. Some, like Marketing Strategist Dorie Clark, recommend mastering a niche first and expanding from there. Others, like me, prefer doing it the other way around, that is getting the big picture before picking a lane.

What’s important is to have both.

3 Things To Know About The Learning Curve

the learning curve

In my workplace, we’re fighting over our learning curve (of course, we don’t call it that).

It has to do with our pay scales and job categories. To make a long story short, if we can prove to our employer that it takes our rookies two years instead of just one to be fully autonomous, we’ll move up a category and get a 5% raise. Yes, there’s excitement in the air.

In any job or human activity, efficiency increases with repetition, and a learning curve is the best way to quantify and graphically show that improvement.

Here are three things you should know about this curve.

First, the learning curve can either go up or down. It goes down when it measures the decreasing time, energy or number of trials needed to perform a task (vertical axis) as experience increases (horizontal axis).

But usually, the first image that comes to mind is a curve that goes up. In this case, we measure the increasing scores or amount of learning (vertical axis) that result from increasing experience or study (horizontal axis).

By the way, when people speak of a steep learning curve, they actually say the opposite of what they think, because a steep curve really means rapid progress.

Second, the learning curve usually follows an S-shape (see image above). When you start something new, you typically struggle at first; after a while, you quickly improve; but as time goes on, your rate of improvement decreases and even levels off.

This last phase derives from the law of diminishing returns, which says that making progress becomes more and more difficult as you get closer to a high level of expertise. Each unit of input will produce less and less output.

The S-shape is especially true for skill learning. My daughter is currently learning to play the recorder, and I can testify to that.

Third, the learning curve is used in many industries, not only to assess the progress of workers but also that of the organization as a whole. Each time the production quantity is doubled, the rate of improvement can increase from 5% to 30% depending on the type of work.

Here are some industries’ average rates of learning.

  • Raw materials: 5%
  • Electronics manufacturing: 10%
  • Aerospace: 15%
  • Shipbuilding: 20%
  • Electrical operations: 25%

As my story above shows, my employer pays us according to some preset categories of difficulty rather than considering individual improvement. But variations exist not only among tasks, but obviously among people too.

Do you know how to recognize peak learners’ learning curves? Well, look for curves that are steep, straight and that seem to go on forever.

4 Basic Strategies To Boost Learning Performance

how to be a top learner

Recently, one of my colleagues wanted to test my budding expertise and asked me to give him learning strategies you can’t live without, be it for improving dance moves, public speaking or language acquisition.

So here are four basic tricks given by Professor Monisha Pasupathi in How We Learn.

  1. Spread out your rehearsals
  2. Mix them up
  3. Draw the connections
  4. Sleep on it

Spacing out your rehearsals is the essential first step for anyone serious about learning. Leaving enough time between your practices or studying is like changing your Pentium computer for the latest iMac (sorry if you’re not into Macs). It just turbo-charges your performance. To know how much time is enough time, check my post on the topic.

Varying the way you learn is your second performance booster. Remember the old advice of sticking to a strict practice routine? Throw that out the window. You want to often change where, when and how you practice and study. For example, instead of always reviewing your Spanish with flashcards at the kitchen table, try finding the words in texts or talking about it to friends. Each change in your routine reinforces your learning by making it more independent from the context.

Using elaborative encoding in the third strategy applicable everywhere. This big word simply means that you need to connect your new material to what you already know, either deliberately by organizing it around past info and experience, or implicitly by using past movements to generate new ones. For more details, check my post on the topic.

Getting a good night’s sleep is your fourth power. Sleeping consolidates learning by helping the brain complete new neural connections forged through practice and study. Brain images show that the patterns of activities occurring while learning are reproduced during REM sleep (and it’s a good thing your body is paralyzed during that phase). Sleep is like an extra rehearsal at the brain level.

So that’s what I told my colleague. You want to reach peak learner status in your field? Start by making these habits part of your daily routine.

The 5 Types of Knowledge Workers (or 5 Ways to Use Knowledge)

who is a knowledge worker

What’s the objective of my blog? Help knowledge workers become peak learners.

Our environment is now changing so fast that knowing (static) has become less important than being able to know fast (dynamic).

But before looking at the how, let’s settle the what. What is a knowledge worker?

Here’s the definition put forward by the famous Peter Drucker: “Someone who knows more about his or her job than anyone else in the organization.”

Insightful, but a little vague.

A good way to grasp what defines these workers is to inspect their relation with knowledge. According to the knowledge management expert Tom Davenport, knowledge workers deal with knowledge in five different ways.

They can:

  1. create it
  2. find it
  3. package it
  4. distribute it
  5. apply it

Knowledge creators are the prime movers of all knowledge work. More than the four other types, creating takes place in the worker’s brain. Examples include researchers, authors and inventors.

Knowledge searchers are expert at quickly finding the right information for other users. Examples include librarians, intelligence analysts and head hunters.

Knowledge packagers put together the knowledge generated by creators. Their main purpose is to make other knowledge workers’ tasks more efficient. Examples include publishers, editors and designers.

Knowledge distributors communicate knowledge or create systems and processes to improve access to it. Examples include teachers, journalists and managers.

Knowledge appliers are at the end of the knowledge line. Their job is to use and reuse knowledge to accomplish specific goals. Examples include doctors, accountants and lawyers.

Before finding strategies to improve your performance and become a peak learner, you should first clarify what you generally do with knowledge at your job.

So what kind of knowledge worker are you?

How To Become A Peak Learner In 3 Steps

how to optimize your brain

I went to university for seven years and earned four degrees. During that time, nobody ever taught me how to study, think or learn better. Like most people, I’ve learned how to learn by trial and error.

As a teacher now, I must admit with some embarrassment that I rarely tell my students how they can improve their learning.

Today, I want to break that cycle, and present three key steps to peak learning.

A peak learner is someone who is able to quickly change his/her knowledge, skills and behavior to fit his/her environment. More precisely, it’s someone who can maximize the speed and size of that change.

In order to get there, you need to work on three areas: awareness, behavior and competence, or ABC.

First, there’s no real learning without awareness. Whether you’re learning Spanish, golf, or how to be nicer, you need to hone your sense of observation to differentiate what works fine from what works great. Even if you’re already getting feedback from a coach or a teacher, evaluating correctly your learning practices and results is essential.

Do you want to turbo-boost your self-assessment capacity? Keep a personal journal.

Second, like any top athlete, you need to implement effective habits or behaviors into your life.

Here’s a short list of five practices required to maintain a high level of learning performance: note-taking, irrelevant information removal, time management, regular workout and sufficient sleep.

The last step is central to your quest. You must master some crucial strategies and competences.

Here are ten of them, which I will cover in greater depth in this blog: active recall, pretesting, self-testing, elaborate encoding, deliberate practice, visualization, semantic organization, optimal theory/practice ratio, optimal rehearsal intervals, working memory enhancement, and perceptual strengthening.

Knowledge workers have no choice but to become peak learners. The future arrives faster and faster, and the lifespan of your technical skills and knowledge is therefore getting shorter and shorter.

Becoming a peak learner is really your best competitive edge.

3 Reasons Why You Should Stop Reading And Start Writing

why write

I love the fields of learning and cognitive science, and I’ve read plenty of books on these topics. But now I need to stop the information input and start producing some output.

Here’s why.

First, Tim Ferris is right. Reading too much and using your brain too little make you fall into lazy habits of thinking. As a knowledge worker, your first job is to think and create new knowledge. Integrating information is only the first part of the equation. At some point, you need to achieve your full potential.

Second, as Cal Newport points out, when it comes to learning, nothing beats active recall. Do you want to make new information stick in your long-term memory? Describe and organize that information in your own words. And, as any creator knows, this strategy is best achieved when you decide to put digital pen to paper.

Finally, what defines an expert isn’t the size of his/her knowledge, but rather the way it’s organized. Here again, writing is key, because it forces you to structure your thoughts. Eventually, you’ll find the core concepts or big ideas to base your expertise on.

As a knowledge worker, you need to invest in your main capital, that is knowledge. Writing will enable you to reach a level of thinking where new knowledge is created.

So even if nobody reads your blog, feed it regularly; it’s the surest road to becoming a peak learner.