How To Become an Expert in Anything

by Mr. Cheap

I recently came across two similar approaches to “becoming an expert” in a field. Both are somewhat similar, and both are in harmony with my experiences in life.

Two way to become an expert on any topic are:

  1. Read a book every month on the topic for one year.
  2. Study the topic every day for 30 minutes.

A father of a friend of mine suggested the first approach. The selection of books is important, if you keep reading “introductory” books on the subject, you probably won’t make much headway (although you might be in a great position to teach others the basics, in a sense you’d be an expert on the basics). Conversely, even if you read through advanced books on the topic, they won’t do you any good if you don’t understand them. A course of reading that progresses from the basics to the more advanced would be ideal (and a reading list from someone who already possess expertise in the field you’re interested in would probably be worthwhile).

Keep in mind that your book selection will also determine what you’re an expert OF. If you read a Robert Kiyosaki book every month for a year, I think you’d be an expert in the “Rich Dad” philosophy, NOT necessarily an expert at finances or making money. Similarly if you studied naturopathy for a year, you’d be an expert in naturopathic medicine, NOT necessarily in medicine or the maintenance of good health.

My childhood doctor complained to my father that with the ease of accessing information from the internet these days, most of his patients develop more expertise about their individual ailments than he possess. These same patients could have probably done this 50 years ago if they were willing to invest the time.

Also keep in mind, this would be a very academic form of expertise. Studying a book on tennis every month for a year would allow you to VERY knowledgeably discuss the players, game and history. It probably wouldn’t make you play very well. On the other hand, reading a book on chess strategies every month for a year probably WOULD improve your game, even if you didn’t play once during that time.

John T. Reed advocates the 30 minutes of study per day approach. In some ways this is a broader idea, as the 30 minutes a day COULD be reading books, but it could also be alternative approaches. I learned “Django” (a framework for easily constructing database driven websites) for a few projects a while back and at the time I was learning it, there weren’t any books available. There WAS a number of discussion forums and on-line documentation (along with using the system itself) which did allow me to become an expert.

In neither of these cases does expert mean “best in the world”. It means you’ll be “a person with a high degree of skill in or knowledge of a certain subject.” When the topic comes up in social situations, typically you’ll be the most knowledgeable person participating.

John T. Reed boldly claims that after 6 months of studying something for 30 minutes a day people in your region will seek out your expertise, and after 1 year people nationally will seek it out. This corresponds with his experience. Mike and I were referenced in the Globe and Mail after writing our blog for about a year.

Have you had experience becoming an expert using either of these approaches? What was the topic and do these time frames correspond with your experience? Do you think there are areas where this wouldn’t work? If yes, what are they?

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