Identity Theft Expert?
Are you an expert at something?
In the world of professional speaking, you are expected to be an expert in your topic (to be taken seriously and to make a living). So speakers begin calling themselves experts, sometimes before they deserve the title. It’s like giving yourself a nickname – it feels a bit self-congratulatory.
I’m no exception. After becoming a two-time victim of identity theft, writing a book on identity theft prevention, and delivering approximately 50 identity theft speeches, I suddenly became an identity theft expert. One day at a speech, someone introduced me as John Sileo, identity theft expert. A local TV station was there filming, so that night on TV I became a local ID theft expert. And that eventually led to some modest national recognition. The name stuck – because it was good for marketing and because, compared to the people in my audience, it was usually true. But compared to a criminal investigator who’d studied financial crime for 20 years, it was untrue. My expertise was really about DELIVERY – distilling and delivering the most important prevention information in a way that inspired people to take action. Which is great… but does it make me an identity theft expert?
Here’s the kicker. Had I not been branded an identity theft expert before it was probably true (if, in fact, it is true even now), I would have never been given the opportunities to BECOME an expert. Once I was branded “the expert” (and it’s later incarnation, “America’s Top Identity Theft Speaker”), I was invited to speak for Fortune 500 companies, participate on boards, contribute to panels and conferences and articles and to meet other experts on the topic. That exposure increased my expertise. But the chicken/egg sensation still troubles me – which came first, the title or the expertise? All too often, I think the title is first. Is that necessarily a bad thing?
Which brings me to my point. How do we become genuine experts in our field? I think that this is the single most important professional question we face as a nation as professional jobs increasingly go to people with greater expertise (sometime in other countries). If my friend Patrick (a pilot for Continental) were to call himself an expert as early in his career as I did, we would all be taking our vacations by car this summer. Ditto for a doctor, teacher or Army general. Expertise obviously varies by what we are applying the term to. But I would like to find the common denominators among these fields (expert pilot, speaker, guitar player, coach, mom, golfer, chess player, etc.). Out of this conversation, I’d like to collect an understanding of some of the common qualities that experts share (if such a list exists). With that knowledge, maybe it will be easier to become an expert. I’ll share my thoughts and learnings once I’ve heard yours.
My fascination with this topic has lead me to read academic papers on the topic. Drawing from those, let me set a common foundation by defining a couple of terms:
- Expert: “One who is very skillful and well-informed in some special field” or “someone widely recognized as a reliable source of knowledge, technique, or skill whose judgement is accorded authority and status by the public or his or her peers” (Webster’s New World Dictionary, 1968, p. 168).
- Expertise: “the characteristics, skills, and knowledge that distinguish experts from novices and less experienced people” (The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance, 2006, p. 3).
- Expert Performance: the ability to consistently reproduce superior performances – to land the airplane safely in a monsoon every time, to win half of the golf tournaments you enter in a year, to play the guitar like Tommy Emmanuel:
So this is the question: How do we become experts? What, exactly, makes you the expert you are?
Is it knowledge? Experience? Coaching? A certain type of practice? Is it in our genes to become an expert? Is it a personality trait? Hard work? Focus? What made Bobby Fischer a better chess player after 9 years than his opponents, some of whom had played competitively for 30 years? They had more knowledge (knew more combinations of moves), more experience (games played), higher IQs, better coaches (according to some), etc. But comparatively, he was the greater expert at age 16. Why? I don’t want to oversimplify, but to find common ground. To explore some universal truths about expertise.
I’m sending this blog post to people that I truly consider experts in their field. I’d love to hear their thoughts on the topic, and yours.