You’re an expert? Really?

Fresh thinking, fresh conversations, fresh actionTrawling through LinkedIn the other day I was struck by how many former military officers claim to be experts in team-work, team building, team development and the like.

Maybe they are. I don’t know. I wonder if they really know.

It got me thinking about the claims we all make about professional expertise. A question arose, “What is the source of our knowing?”

Experience is one such source, but how do we make future-worthy sense of this? What models, benchmarks, filters and biases are in play? How widely is the story of our expertise shared by others, or is it one we created solely by ourselves?

Did the story actually unfold as we tell it now? How much is freshly constructed, changed in scope, with players and events modified or missing, and divorced from the richness of the original context?

What wisdom from our stories do we apply successfully to new challenges? How does the story continue to evolve?

I am a huge fan of experiential learning. I run a business that draws on this approach. Experience without reflective learning is not, in my view, enough to make professional claims of expertise.

So, maybe there are some other important questions. “Am I aware of how I learn? Where do I place my attention? What am I unaware of? How would it be if I could develop a critical awareness of how I make sense of the world and the things that happen? How might I explore and integrate new ways of learning? How much richer would my knowing, and claims to expertise be?

So, lets check in honestly with ourselves and consider our capacity for critique, the fitness of our critical faculties. We can get some way on our own for sure. Real transformation, insight and expertise – in my experience – however come from dialogue with fearless friends and colleagues, and the challenge and support of coaches and mentors.

“I did something in a former career, and it worked really well” may be good enough for a keynote address on a limited run. It isn’t enough to make a claim to professional expertise.

Harsh? Fair? Somewhere in between? What do you think?

Dave Stewart
The Fresh Air Learning Company