How to become the go-to expert for go-to experts

How do you become a go-to expert while still getting some work done?

Experts

Who do experts turn to? Image by Mai Le | Flickr

For individuals and organizations alike, having a wealth of knowledge sure helps if you want to be an expert for other experts to turn to.

However if you really know your stuff you may end up filling your days answering very similar questions – without getting to the bottom of a topic that has your genuine interest more than once every few months.

Add structure to your knowledge-sharing

There are a couple of ways to enhance your expert status in a more structured way:

  1. Organize networking and knowledge-sharing events. David Gurteen’s Knowledge Cafes come to mind – as part of a community.
  2. Provide training to experts
  3. Share your expertise online starting, if you’ve been answering questions for quite some time, with a couple of FAQs. There is no end of experts blogging themselves silly 🙂
  4. However, mind the amount of time you want to invest. You might want to get someone to interview you instead.

The advantage of documenting your knowledge in some form is that you can share it while you’re doing something else with your time. Like run a business based on your expertise. Or perhaps you could use your time listening to other people. Expertise should not be allowed to rest on its laurels.

Ultimate content: being the go-to expert for go-to experts

The ultimate expert is the one the experts turn to – the one who provides content they’ll happily recommend to anyone who will listen, because they really can’t add much to your overview. If this is your aim it means you need to get all of your facts right.

Mistakes ruin your reputation as an expert (need I even say it?)

Mistakes, even if you copy-pasted them from another website to save time, render your content useless and could turn your visitors away for good – because you lose trust when you mix facts with fiction. This is something I realized years ago: if you’re wrong about one fact, then it doesn’t matter if you’re right about all the other facts. (I also learned that people who can’t work with absolute accuracy should not be allowed to go near a database).

People can’t refer to your content as the ultimate source on the topic if you leave in a single mistake. Get your facts straight.

So review every detail with care. Content from obscure sources should be checked against not just your own knowledge but also against, say, your biggest competitor’s opinion or even several other websites. If they contradict one another, apply your own expertise, do more research, call in another expert, or leave that particular ‘fact’ alone.

What else would you recomment doing?

Professional knowledge and the use of different perspectives

Have you ever noticed how some people can completely erase your desire to have a discussion with them? David Gurteen recently drew my attention to Nancy Dixon’s blog post about the negative impact of speaking with conviction. In this post I’ll review the pros and cons of considering many perspectives versus limiting yourself to a single point of view.

Cloud Gate. Different perspectives.

Cloud Gate. Different perspectives. [Click to view Mike Warot’s photo on Flickr]

In all the heaps and piles of information before you, what is valuable depends on your purpose.

Professional knowledge lends purpose to your actions

Anyone who has a very specific purpose for the information (or objects) available to them will use their perspective to sieve the gold from the dirt:

  • As an information specialist – and in a number of other professions – you analyze and filter information according to what other people need at a particular time. Going in with a strictly utilitarian viewpoint, narrowed down to one specific purpose, combined with (re)search skills, means you’ll end up with the right set of information sooner rather than later.
  • As an archivist, you put together archives – structures – that will serve the needs of the team, department, or organization. There’s limited room for your own preferences – and that’s fine. You’re not supposed to keep every file you like.

Different perspectives urge different actions. If your perspective is “anything can be useful, depending on what you’re looking for” you don’t see gold or dirt, but copper, iron, gold, and lots of other stuff that could be useful to someone. Although at this point the word ‘hoarding’ comes to mind.

Professional knowledge and different perspectives in conversations

In conversations, taking one perspective and pushing it to the exclusion of every other point of view means you effectively kill the conversation. That seems convenient, but people may stop trying to change your opinion and focus on implementing their ideas without your valuable input.

  • If you want to keep your conversations going – and the exchange of professional knowledge with it – taking a leaf from the ‘many perspectives’ book may be just what you need.
  • On the other hand, if you’re reasonable to a fault, self-proclaimed holders of strong opinions may think you lack a personal own point of view.

Aiming for balance is probably your best bet.

The limits of your knowledge

It’s relatively easy to become an expert and out-know everybody else. The true art lies in letting go of your preferred point of view and trying a different perspective. Doing so makes you realize that there is always room for a smidgen of doubt.

  1. Your reasoning may be faulty.
  2. The information you have is incomplete, therefore your knowledge is likely to be flawed in some part.
  3. The mere fact that you’re better informed than the others doesn’t mean you’re also right.

Trying to convince people to trade the opinion they’ve voiced for yours may not work. Pointing out that the object they see looks different from another angle may be all you can do.
We’re all walking the tightrope of knowledge over the chasm of inadequate information. Meet you halfway?

Why tools fail: learning curve in knowledge management

Getting to know a tool for knowledge management – or for anything which sounds as if your organization should be doing it – is like receiving a present. It’s gift-wrapped and looks very promising on the outside. But there is an issue.

Big Tools for Knowledge Management?

Using Big Bait for Knowledge Management? – Flickr | HikingArtist.com

Continue reading

How to leave your job in an orderly fashion

Writing as I am at a table in a home in the Netherlands, the abdication by our queen and subsequent coronation of her son is something which makes me wonder how you prepare your successor for a job you’ve had for a long time – possibly decades, although that doesn’t happen very often.

Leave Your Job In An Orderly Fashion

Harvest [click to view image by Vilseskogen on Flickr]

With many jobs, the role remains in some shape where the individuals leave. Unless we run a family business, we don’t (consciously) prepare our children to do our own job – to become our successors.

So how do we prepare our jobs to be taken over by successors we may hardly know?

How to leave your job in an orderly fashion

I’ve left a few jobs behind me over the years, though not one I’d done for 30-odd years. Even so I’ve learned a couple of things so far about handing over your tasks to your successor. Here’s my pick-and-mix harvest:

  1. Don’t postpone documenting your tasks until you can see the exit outlined. Make documenting essential procedures a normal part of your routine. It’ll give you something to refer interns or new coworkers to. If anything changes, you’ll be able to check (and show) quickly where your own tasks are affected.
  2. List every task you can think of and write down everything worth knowing for every task on your list. (check if current procedures are up to date)
  3. Make sure you distinguish between priorities #1 and the rest. Don’t pretend everything you do is equally important.
  4. Don’t believe for a second you’ll be able to document 100% of what you do, how you do it, and why you do it.
  5. Don’t believe for a second that nothing will or should change after you leave. You’ll give them a way to keep going without you, until they decide to do things differently.
  6. If you remember why you follow a certain procedure, add your reasons. Those reasons will help your successor understand why a seemingly dull task is important – and if they change anything, they’ll know what to keep or whom to check with before they skip that part.
  7. For preference, have your successor in place before you leave. If you can’t, haul in a coworker who’s not about to leave in the next month or so and have them perform the most essential task from your list. Then improve your documentation accordingly. Including: “If you’re not sure, ask Jake.”
  8. Depending what branch you’re working in (at your next job) give your successor anywhere from 2 days to 1 month to call you if they have any questions.
  9. Leave.

This is all under the assumption that you and your employer are on good terms when you leave.

A royal exit for everyone

Whether or not you were happy at the job you leave behind, don’t make enemies on the way out. If you hated everything about your job, smile on your way to the door. You’re leaving, remember? You can afford to give your ex-colleagues a final royal wave.

How have you left your previous job(s)? Have I left any important bits out?

LinkedIn skills for (knowledge management) professionals

Nowadays if you visit the LinkedIn profile of one of your connections you are asked to ‘endorse’ their skills. In this post I’ll explore a few questions about LinkedIn skills and give a quick how-to for hiding (!) your endorsements.

Knowledge management and SharePoint skills: when are you skilled enough?

LinkedIn Skills And EndorsementsQuite a few people I noticed have added the skill “knowledge management” to their profile – including people who were no part of any KM (tools) team. What they did do was upload content in a SharePoint workspace. A few of them have added “SharePoint” to their skills too (no comment).

What’s with this LinkedIn skills rage?

These are the ingredients for my famous LinkedIn skills pie:

  1. A social network where you can share your professional skills.
  2. A crisis, so you’re going to add any skill you have, right?
  3. A shift in people’s tasks. They’ll join a new team and add the skills that go with the job before acquiring the skills.
  4. No option to add a level of skill either for your own skills or when you endorse one of your connections. This means the world is fast filling up with experts in adding links to web parts and uploading documents to document libraries.

#3: Most people don’t add new skills to your LinkedIn profile even though they can. This means that virtually the only way to get endorsed is to make sure you add any skill before it’s even properly cooked.

#4: Level does exist for languages, but many people have left those among their skills. (You may add your culinary metaphor in a comment.)

LinkedIn skills and career change: hiding endorsements

Right now, the skill you get endorsed for the most will get peak position. You can influence what other people see only by hiding your endorsements. By lowering the number of visible endorsements you can move your high-ranking skills down the list.

How do you hide your endorsements?

  1. Edit profile;
  2. Click the edit button on the upper right of your skills section;
  3. Click the tab “Manage endorsements”;
  4. Click each skill to check or uncheck endorsements you need to show or hide.
  5. Save.

The last thing you want if you’re considering a career change, is for new or newly (re)activated connections to endorse you on the stuff that’s already popular. It’s like this:

  • Suppose that in your teens you taught yourself to bake pies. I did – mostly because I enjoyed the making and the eating and it wasn’t serious food so it didn’t feel like work 😉
  • Five or ten years on you cook the most delicious risottos. Except no one asks you for them. You end up having to stuff your lovely risotto down people’s throats before they’ll admit you “do a very nice risotto too”. After which they ask for dessert. Preferably pie-shaped.

Have you ever hidden a skill (in real life or on LinkedIn, knowledge management or risotto) so you could finally draw people’s attention to your other skills?

Brain innovation: why you need to change your mind

Don’t you just love brain talk? I do. Reading this interview with Janet Crawford (part 2, anyway) was both enlightening and inspiring. It answers the question why many of us – but not all of us – find it hard to deal with change. Here’s my take on ‘brain innovation’.

Stuck in a rut? You bet.

Brain change: Meandering River

[Image: The Goosenecks, San Juan river, Utah – on Flickr, by Jesse Varner, 2005]

By the time we’re 40, or 50, we’ve built an archive in our brains of “things that work”. This knowledge and these actions have kept us prospering for years and we view them as good stuff for that reason. These aren’t just words – our experiences have become part of our brain patterns.

Doing something contrary to ‘what works’ is like walking on a path you’ve never taken because you’ve spent a lifetime believing it ends in a swamp. Starting down it takes a conscious decision – and it may take considerable effort to keep walking.

Career change means brain innovation

There’s all kinds of articles you can read about the ‘modern career’ – if you have the time, and in some cases a handy bucket:

  • “Stop looking for job security, focus on income security”
  • “In this fast-paced, ever-changing society we must let go of old beliefs”
  • “Parents telling their kids to get a steady job-with-a-contract are giving off all the wrong signals!”

Right now, our society is less likely to support steady jobs than we expected 30 years ago. But oddly enough not less likely than, say, 80 years ago.

A few career survival skills:

  1. entrepreneurship (even at its most basic)
  2. networking (investing in relationships with people you don’t need right now)
  3. looking ahead, beyond your current working environment
  4. spotting opportunities
  5. selecting relevant topics and new skills to learn about
  6. learning.

Any job where you don’t need even one of these skills is probably not going to help you in the long run.

A woman ‘between’ jobs in her fifties told me: “Nothing in my previous job [at a local government] prepared me for this. I’m reinventing myself.”

Opening up your mind to new possibilities

In brain terms, changing your mind at a fundamental level is much like changing the course of a river. It takes engineering skill or you’ll end up with a mess and the river will return to its old bed no matter what you try.

What if you’re not a ‘mind change engineer’?

Read. Diversify. Develop new interests, or regard those you have as side branches of the river that is your career. They are not ‘just’ hobbies – they give you a chance to explore a side of you that doesn’t fit in with your current job.

How do you keep your brain fresh and open to change?

Perception, art, and the space between meanings

How much do we grow used to interpreting symbols around us? When it comes to understanding traffic rules for example, a red or a green traffic light is relatively easy to understand. Red means “stop”, green means “go”. The tricky bit is when your kid sees a green light but it’s for other road users.

Now arrows… arrows are tricky by default.

Perception: Meanings of an Arrow

Knowledge of specific conventions tell us what an arrow means.
[OCAL image]

  • It’s up to you to gain enough general knowledge about the world and our conventions to recognize the shape of an arrow, and to understand that arrows point in a direction,  that it’s the pointy bit that does the pointing, and that there’s a reason for it to point.
  • Your next hurdle is understanding that you need to look around you to see what the arrow is doing in its context – to find the reason for the arrow. Why is it here, what is it supposed to show you, is it even there for you – or for the car in the lane next to you?

Just to point my own arrow at a minor detail here: you’re an expert in a lot of ways without realizing it. You just read the stuff I wrote about arrows and conventions like traffic rules, and you’re still here. Now let’s move a step further.

The effect of learning in professionals

I’ve taken a quote from an interesting post about learning and its effect on us: “…once we have learned to see design, both good and bad, we cannot un-see.”

It’s easy to point at stuff you’d like to learn – but you can’t point at things you’re trying to forget AND succeed at forgetting them. What if you told someone “Right now I’m trying not to think about those purple bears over there, hanging out on the beach drinking pink-and-green cocktails with fake strawberries on straws in them. And they’re wearing high heels, which is no joke for a purple bear on a beach.” Check out the size of that arrow 😉

The author of the quote goes on to list examples of how designers, artists, and other professionals cope with the gap between their trained professional self, and their untrained clients. Like I stated in an earlier post: un-learning is possible, but it takes a conscious effort. It’s a lot harder to forget or ignore specific bits of knowledge that have become entrenched in the corners of your brain, than to focus on learning them. (The one example I’ve run into of people being unable to step away from what they’ve learned is not so much designers but IT professionals. We’re all guilty of being an expert at something.)

Perception, art, and the space between meanings

Some things mean everything to us, and nothing to the person standing next to us. This is particularly clear when art is concerned. A piece of art is filled with meaning by the artist. Compositions as a rule don’t drop from a handy cloud. Details don’t miraculously pop up in a painting. A work of art is constructed, and its details are where the artist put them for a reason.

The way we perceive any piece of art is defined by our personal experience. Our general knowledge of the world. Our knowledge about other works of art and any convention we have grown used to. If our personal knowledge overlaps to a great extent with that of certain artists, we’ll perceive their art much the way they intended. On the other hand, if there is little to no overlap – say you’re admiring a 16th-century Italian painting and you’re

  1. unfamiliar with classical mythology, and
  2. not a religious person,

it’s going to take some explaining to get even a rough sense of what you’re looking at and what story the artist wanted to tell in that painting. That artist was creating a work of art with a specific audience in mind. I guess it’s safe to assume you’re not the audience he (probably not she) was thinking of at the time.

Read more:

Do you watch (your) kids learn about the meaning or meanings of the things around them? What do you make of perception, art, and the meanings of familiar symbols?