People respect expertise and they listen to experts. This is with good reason – experts have put in the work to become knowledgeable in their fields. And this is the key phrase – in their fields. They choose a field and become very good at it. But how do you choose a field to specialize in?
In the first post in this series, we talked about what an expert is and the reasons and benefits for being an expert in your locality or company. You can read that post here. In this post, we advance the idea of being a local expert with three tips for choosing your niche of expertise. Let us begin.
Choosing a niche
Choosing what to specialize in can be daunting. There are so many options from the hard, technical skills to the so-called “soft” skills**.
Also, the relative ease of access to information in today’s internet-driven high-tech landscape means that the sheer volume of choice can lead to overwhelm. In the past, you only had conventional, brick and mortar learning institutions that charged a hefty price for education. Deciding what to learn was as much a major financial decision as what kind of house to purchase. Odds were you’d be paying for it for quite sometime after. And if you made the wrong choice, well, hard luck.
Take a look at MOOCs
Today, there are thousands of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) that can be taken cheaply or even for free on a large variety of subjects. With providers like Coursera, Udemy and, more recently, SkillShare, you can get started relatively inexpensively in virtually any field. I could not resist the pun.
I generally recommend these platforms for a more informal and pragmatic approach to learning, but some of these platforms have courses that can even be used for college credit if you are interested in pursuing a more traditional path of education.
MOOCs are still gaining ground but, as far knowledge and skill acquisition are concerned, supply is not the problem – choice is. And affordable choice to boot.
The 3 key considerations
Learning and gaining mastery for its own sake or for fun can be very fulfilling. However, I have assumed here that you are becoming an expert for professional or commercial purposes and not just for fun. If this describes you, then your ideal choice of expertise will live at the intersection of the three criteria below.
- Relevance to your company or industry
- Of deep interest to you or something that you are passionate about
- Plays to your talents or natural abilities
Let us look at each.
Tip #1 – Check the locality for Relevance of your expertise
There is virtually no limit to what you choose to specialize in. However, if you choose a field that is not relevant to the industry (locality) you want to excel in, it will be a hard sell. Being an expert landscaper may not earn you a promotion in an I.T consulting business. Being an expert in Digital Architecture though – that’s relevant!
Also, consider the skill’s future usefulness. Be sure that the skill is relevant either now or will be in the near future. Certain fields have had their heyday and are now nearing the end of their glory. Be sure you invest in expertise that promises is not nearing the end of its life.
The key takeaway? Your chosen field needs to be valuable in whatever industry you are aiming at and show promise, based on your best knowledge, to remain that way for a significant period of time.
Tip # 2 – Check yourself for Interest and Passion
This may be the most important of all three. Because with it, you can press your way through weaknesses in the other areas. But without it, you will almost certainly give up before any real progress can be made.
Interest and passion will fuel your motivation to excel. The late nights and early mornings spent studying and practising will feel like play because you genuinely love the subject. Trust me on this one – choose a field of expertise that lights you up – and you are more than likely to excel.
Tip # 3 – Check yourself for Natural ability
If passion is the fuel, then talent is the engine. The output of the system will be limited by the efficiency of the engine even if fuel is present in vast quantities. If your engine is very efficient, you will multiply the output greatly. The opposite is also true – working hard at something you have little or no natural ability in will result in a lot of wasted time and energy. And in the end, you might only wind being marginally good at it. Why settle for that if you can pick something you are already good at (or that plays to your strengths) and get great at it.
Choose wisely and be flexible
Having chosen your field based on these tips, I encourage you to be flexible and adaptable in your choice of expertise over time. You might start off in one direction only to discover that the mix of these criteria is shifting. This will usually happen around Relevance. As long as you have enough by way of the other two criteria, be open to tweaking but beware of becoming so “general” that you are no longer a true expert. You can only be known for so many things at one time.
Till the next post, be your best and do your best.
**Side rant: I have never really liked the term “soft skills” because it is used often to imply that these skills – usually interpersonal and intrapersonal skills – are of less value than the so-called hard skills. Not only is this contrary to common sense, it is contrary to scientific research. “Soft skills” are the ultimate transferable skills that make for success and adaptability in a rapidly changing work environment. The jerk-faced genius is an intolerable cliché and unless this archetype has ridiculously specialized and insanely rare and commercially valuable expertise, today’s workplace will quickly replace them with a more balanced albeit less technically outstanding candidate. Rant over.