Education and experience are necessities for increasing your human capital, with human capital as an approach to looking at your potential overall worth, a grand analysis of which your financial net worth is only a part. With education and experience, you have the ability to become a versatile subject matter expert. As a recognized expert, you would add another layer to your measurement of human capital.
There are two kinds of experts. The first kind of expert you can identify easily because individuals who fall into this category typical market or advertise themselves as experts. Self-declared experts tend to be people who are more interested in selling something than any other professional goal. Selling something, however, is key to financial independence, so we can’t put off that particular skill.
True experts, however, are recognized within their fields, and that recognition sometimes requires a little marketing in a crowded field. But you can’t just say you’re an expert without something to support the claim, as when your expertise is called upon, you will be required to live up to your name. If you choose to “fake it before you make it,” you should hope that your claim goes unquestioned until your education and experience catches up with your marketing.
Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers: The Story of Success, came to the conclusion that the key to success in any field is the “10,000 hour rule.” You need to practice any activity, whether that be writing, performing a musical instrument, or policing the streets a minimum of 10,000 hours in order to excel. That’s the baseline. After 10,000 hours of education and experience, you will likely see success and perhaps recognition within your field.
Being an expert requires more: admiration within your field. Other successful individuals should be looking to you as an example. Expertise comes in a variety of different levels. You may consider any of the following an expert, using physics as an example because I’m currently reading a biography of Albert Einstein.
- Everyday expert: Your college physics professor, who holds a PhD and has published research in a peer-reviewed journal.
- Respected expert: Your graduate-level physics professor, who has published innovative research and several books about physics or a specific topic within physics.
- Renowned expert: An adjunct physics professor at a major university, who is called upon by companies and government organizations for advisement.
- Revolutionary expert: A physicist who changes the way we understand the world, such as Albert Einstein.
While the above examples are centered around academia, there are equivalents in the private sector as well.
Specialism vs. generalism
There are two approaches to becoming an expert. The first is to focus your expertise on a fine point and drill down deep into a slim area and the other is to widen your angle to add to your versatility across many aspects of the same field. The specialism vs. generalism is a lively debate, and each approach has its benefits. While I favor the generalism approach and the concept of a Renaissance man (or woman), either path can gain human capital.
With the specialist approach, the increase in human capital comes from the notoriety you will gain from people in your field; as long as your particular focus continues to be relevant to the world and to your industry, your recognition as an expert will keep your talents in demand.
I often use Ron Howard as an example of the generalist approach. From his time as Richie Cunningham on the sitcom Happy Days, he worked hard to expand his skills beyond acting, seeking a mentor in the form of Garry Marshall and experience behind the camera. Ron isn’t remembered today for being one of the world’s greatest sitcom actors, but for being a highly-respected producer and director within the industry. Ron’s talents will always be in demand.
Both categories are experts, and both benefit from an increase human capital. I tend to think that the boost is greater for a successful generalist, but it may be more difficult to gain the advantage as expert generalists are not as easily recognized as expert specialists.
Seeking out a mentor who success you respect is a great way to acquire valuable insight, but little is more effective than becoming a mentor. As a mentor, you are required to thoughtfully consider the choices that you’ve made to accomplish your success thus far. The process of teaching and leading others often elucidates your own philosophies and paths, connecting the dots from your adventurous onset to the present day. If you’re asked to give advice, you might, on the spot, come up with a tactic that would help yourself.
This has happened to me many times. I talk to many financial bloggers, for example — split relatively evenly between those who I’d like to learn from and those who intend to learn from me (although I believe I have much to learn from everyone). Almost every time, I gain some insight that proves to be invaluable or potentially helpful whether from myself when discussing my thoughts on a topic or from the other party.
Perhaps this also comes from my background in education. As a teacher, you are on the spot, forced prepare for your lessons by knowing the issues inside and out. This preparation is necessary because many of the most involved students ask questions and offer challenges.
Getting the word out about your expertise
It doesn’t help if you’re an expert who nobody knows about. It does help, but being known as an expert — if you are in fact an expert, not a charlatan — is better than being an expert locked in your basement without any publicity. I am not a fan of the approach that calls for calling oneself an expert. If everyone who called him or herself an “expert” truly was exceptional, there would be no value in being an expert.
Here are some tips for sharing your expertise with the public.
- You should have your own website. This is a minimum. The website should be personal in nature, should preferably include updated content like a blog, and should include evidence of your expertise without explicitly calling yourself an expert.
- You should be published. Writing a book is usually not a good money-making venture in the short term. Even best-selling authors calculate they earned roughly minimum wage for their time writing and promoting. On the other hand, being a published author increases the value of your “brand,” solidifying your place as an expert.
- If publishers aren’t interested, self-publish. Working with a publisher lends credibility to yourself, but not everyone can reach that level due to the subject matter being too risky for a major publisher to invest in and market. Anyone can publish a book on his or her own, so this in itself doesn’t add to credibility. If you’re able to market it well, a self-published book may attract some attention, but it’s only a good choice for those who can’t find a publisher.
- Use radio and television. Target media that have audiences similar to your potential audience, and find ways to get noticed by the producers. Agents and public relations firms help with this, though some charge you by appearance.
What are your suggestions for becoming an expert? If you are an expert, how did you get to that point?
Published or updated October 13, 2011.