The idea for the topic of being OK with being an expert came to me a few months ago while I was attending economic development sales training. This training was about closing the economic development deal. Que up the Glengarry Glen Ross Reference - Always be closing...
Anyway, as an economic developer, my job is to sell my community to stakeholders, site selectors, businesses, and future residents.
It is also communicating with existing residents about programs and selling projects to them, because they may not think a project is good for the community or want it to do more.
For example, at my previous job in a city. There was a lot of activity going on in a historic neighborhood. That are had seen a huge upswing in development activity since 1990 and some of the residents think that enough is enough.
There were also concerns about gentrification. Any new development was met with opposition from a fairly vocal portion of the community. We had to constantly work with them, sell them, or reshape projects to ensure they were ok with it.
This experience taught me that sales training may be helpful to me. So I went ahead and took the opportunity because I am a firm believer that you can always know more and no matter how much experience or knowledge you have, you should always seek out more.
While at that training a Senior VP of a regional economic development group, which will go unnamed, stated aloud to the group that he was uncomfortable with the idea that he was an expert in economic development.
This was flabbergasting to me. How could someone who is responsible for business attraction and retention efforts for a large area not be willing to sell themselves as an expert. He is the face of the organization, the face for the region he represents, and he is trying to convince site selectors and companies to believe in him and locate in his area against global competition. I wondered to myself how someone can not think of himself as an expert and properly represent his community. Perhaps it is Midwest values and humbleness, but I think this is a problem.
Now I know that this may come off as being arrogant, or whatever, but I have worked tirelessly to put myself through undergraduate and graduate school, work hard to get promoted many times and now I am Director of Economic Development for a community, and I absolutely think of myself as an expert.
Do I know everything, of course not, that is why I am attending Economic Development Finance training, did the sales training, etc and always trying to be better.
But I believe that if I am going to do the best I can to represent my community and bring about sustainable economic development than I am obligated to flex my expertise and knowledge and sell myself to developers, realtors, site selectors, businesses and the community as an expert.
If you have had the opportunity of working in occupation that you have dedicated yourself to, have gained valuable experience, are very knowledgeable about it, have insights that go beyond the basics, are excited about what your do, have achieved some success, and have failed but examined the failure and took lessons from that. Then I argue there is an expert in you that you should be OK embracing.
For those who are young in a career, I know this is a leap and you don’t have the knowledge or experience yet and may in no way feel that you might be an expert because everything is too new. No problem. There are things you can do to prepare yourself and become the expert you want to be.
Before I get to that though, I want to go on a quick tangent- In doing a bit of research on this topic I came across a blog post from someone saying that it is OK not to be an expert.
The author’s point was that with being an expert came with some facade of being perfect. Personally, I think this idea is bullshit.
Being an expert has nothing to do with being perfect. It’s through failure that true expertise arises.
I’m a sports fan so I’ll use an example from that to make my point:
Lebron James is arguable the second best basketball player ever- I’m a Jordan guy which like my opinions on economic development you don’t need to agree with, just my opinion.
Anyway Lebron James has dedicated himself to being the best to ever play basketball. That is clear. He could be considered an expert. Is he the best 3-point shooter - no. Is he the best free throw shooter - no. Is he the best defender - no, but he has a well rounded game that has made him one of the best.
Also. Lebron James is 3-6 in the NBA finals. Now I know basketball is a team sport, but so is life and so is the workplace.
If Lebron James can lose more championships than he wins that doesn’t mean that he is any less expertise at playing basketball.
Some people simply have more success than others based on their circumstances no matter how great they are.
He isn't perfect, you aren’t, I’m not, no one is. That doesn’t mean you don’t have expertise to share.
Shifting back to the topic at hand- In thinking about this topic I came across an article from Time Magazine in 2016. It was titled “How to be an expert at anything according to experts”. The authors name is Eric Barker.
In the article he details a few things that I would agree with:
Just because you may see yourself as an expert it doesn’t mean that there can be others with different beliefs. Just like anything else our expertise is shaped by our environment, learning, and experience. Other people have different beliefs because their beliefs are shaped by different environments, experiences, and education.
At the risk of sounding preachy, too often today discussions devolve into ugly name calling and bullying, if not even violence. This needs to stop.
Innovation is built on ideas and ideas come from all kinds of experts. I want you to be an expert and share your ideas into the marketplace, then have discussions that lead to compromises and new ideas. That is how government, technology, smart cities, etc will all come to be able to care for all the people in a community and not just the ones that agree with your opinion and reject all others. Bipartisanship and civil conversation is the path forward. That is why I believe so much in community engagement efforts. I want to know what every person in my community thinks. Then I take that input, use my expertise to shape development and programs that are designed to meets all their needs. Now I won’t and you won’t and hell no one will ever design something that truly will serve all people equally. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try.
Anyway, I’ll get off my soapbox for today.
The point is, take pride in your work, seek out more information and new ideas all the time, and if you look like an expert, think like an expert, and talk like an expert, then take pride in yourself and be ok with the idea that you just might in fact be an expert. And if you're new in your career, but you know this is what you want to do for the long haul then dedicate yourself, find a mentor, ask questions, learn from your mistake and become an expert.