Of all the overused, hyped-up marketing nouns out there, “expert” has to be near the top of the heap. It is used so often that people have (rightfully so) become very suspect of the word.
An interesting thing happens, however, to many perspective entrepreneurs … they feel so frightened about calling themselves an expert that they think they have to obtain 20 years of experience and a post-doctorate to even be considered credible. I think this is counter-productive, as most successful entrepreneurs build expertise and credibility bit by bit.
So to shake you out of your “I’m not worthy” mode, here are some alternative “expert” definitions:
The “no one would call them an expert because they are too young but they really are an expert” expert
John Trosko (more on him in a minute) showcased a perfect example of this on his blog, featuring the very enthusiastic “folding expert” Ben Zweig (The original source was from Lifehacker.) What Ben lacks in years on the planet, he makes up with exuberance, charm and a true knack for making a great instructional video.
(BTW, this is the first time I have ever inserted a video into my blog and I am really stoked I figured it out!)
The “low on training or formal education but high on results” expert
30-minute meal cooking phenomenon Rachel Ray is a perfect example of this. She was not formally trained at an elite cooking school or 5-star restaurant, she honed her skills while preparing food demonstrations in a mall. I am sure there are Cordon Bleu-trained chefs who watch her show and cringe. In the meantime, she perkily flings food around her kitchen on her way to a multi-media empire. It doesn’t hurt to have Oprah as a backer, but I do believe that it was a lot of her own ganas (inner fire, drive) that got her noticed by major media. She is a master at being open, friendly, accessible and practical, and this adds to her appeal. While I may not call her an expert chef, I would call her an expert at bringing simple, quick and healthy food preparation to the masses.
The “been there done that” expert
This kind of expert has learned a tremendous amount from real life experience, not formal education. They often share their expertise through analogies and examples, not textbook citations. Sometimes the experts from this area gain experience in areas outside of work, for example the child abuse expert who grew up in an abusive household.
The “been to the right schools and has the right advanced academic degrees” expert
They do exist, and thank goodness. There is real value in seasoned, well-read and analytical experts who know volumes about their subject matter. The caveat I would propose for experts with this pedigree in the business world is that they should be able to demonstrate results from all of their book smarts. All of us have probably come across a cultured genius with more letters after their name than in their name who is also a tremendous windbag. The key is not just knowing a lot about a given field, but knowing how to apply what you know in a practical business situation.
The “has a combination of academic and ‘been there done that’ experience along with a boatload of enthusiasm” expert
This is where John Trosko of Organizing LA serves as a good example. It is clear from his bio that he has lots of professional experience, but the vibe that comes off his blog by virtue of the colors and images is of high energy and enthusiasm. I am an organizing nerd by nature and a Virgo to boot (which means I give anally retentive a new meaning), but even if I wasn’t, I think I would enjoy reading John’s thoughts on organizing.
My aim at giving some texture to the definition of the word “expert” is to encourage new entrepreneurs to expand their view of what it means to be credible. It is ok to stand up and say with pride “I really do know and care a lot about this subject and you should listen to me!” If you have the results to back it up, you have just as much right to say this as does a post-doctorate from Stanford.