How I accidentally became an expert (and how you can too!)

An Expert (Image by Pete Prodoehl via Flickr)

An Expert (Image by Pete Prodoehl via Flickr)

I’ve been thinking about what I could write about on this blog. I want to be able to write some decent length posts that have some quality writing in them, as well as my airy-fairy short posts that keep the writing happening every day. And the change to this new theme, Twenty Eleven, allows me to have these feature posts along with those less-featureable ones. But what to write about. I think I may have spent a lunch break or two staring at my computer screen, browsing different sites and blogs, reading posts about “finding your niche” and “develop your microniche” trying to think about what I could write about.

And then it struck me. Some how – and I don’t know why this happened – I became an expert. It all happened rather accidentally. Yet, there are those around who treat me as an expert. In what field?

The internet for Churches.

It’s a microniche area that effectively covers the role that I am in at The Uniting Church in WA. It covers websites, as well as Social Networking, and somehow – despite the fact that I would not consider myself an expert in either of those fields – I have become an expert in the field.

An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made, in a narrow field. Niels Bohr.

Side effect of a job

Now, this is very much a side effect of the job. My role as Website and Information officer is to maintain the Synod website and Database. However, as an aside, I am also responsible for maintaining and advising on the issues of Social Networking. So my expertise is not my main role, however, as part of doing my role, I have had to become an expert in this field.

An expert is someone who has specific knowledge in a field. This can come about through their own working – such as having spent significant time in that field either working or researching – or “by accident” where the person is perceived to have knowledge about a subject, and with no-one else around who has more knowledge they unwittingly assume the role of Expert.

Meeting up to the expectations

This is how it happened for me. Needing to give a talk about websites at a regional gathering, I included in there some basic advice on social networking, as I was aware that there would be some questions as part of this. When this was included, I automatically became the expert in that room, as I knew more about this strange beast called Social Networking.

And from there it spread.

I started getting asked questions. Sometimes I would know. Sometimes I wouldn’t. Thankfully,  often the questions would come via e-mail, so I would be able to figure out an answer to help them out. I just wanted to be helpful and answer their query. But as part of this, I developed knowledge in the subject, and appeared to them as already knowing it. Sometimes I would say that I didn’t know, and they would come back with “Well, if you don’t know, it must be really difficult. Don’t worry about it.” But I would still go away and figure out how to do it.

Then I started getting asked questions from other people, who had heard from someone else that I was the person to talk to about Facebook. Or twitter. In social networking, news can spread very quickly – but no-where near as quickly as it can spread through a church. In the Salvation Army, General Orders (where officer’s new appointments are made public) are revealed at 11.00am WST. I’m sure that by 11.05am every Salvo has heard who’s moving, who isn’t and asked “why did they go and do that?” for every move. Nothing moves faster than news in a church.

Then I was asked to do a forum overview of social networking. And suddenly – without realising it – I had become an expert.

Maintaining that position

Once you’ve become that expert, you hold a certain responsibility. You need to maintain that level of knowledge, and constantly be adding to it. There will always be people who come along and ask you a question that you’re not certain on what the answer is.

Now that you’re an expert, you have to either know what the answer is, or know where to find it. I am regularly reading up on things related to my field so that I can grow in knowledge so that when people ask me, I know the answer. As my field is what would be described as a microniche – there’s not many (but a few) good sites that talk about Social Networking for churches – so instead I look out to the niche, I read blogs by leaders in social networking. I read blogs to do with websites (and WordPress in particular), and I do so often. Questions will often come in waves, but I need to know that my knowledge is always available quickly from my memory banks.

Constantly challenge

Quite often, people learn by being challenged. To be challenged often requires someone with more knowledge than yourself. But when you’re an expert in your field, you need to challenge yourself. Challenge yourself to find ways to complete tasks in a faster, more efficient way. Challenge yourself to find a new way to do something that may fit a particular situation better. Challenge yourself to grow and increase in knowledge constantly.

This is how I maintain my position as an accidental expert.

  1. Develop general knowledge, and apply it to a specific field. I knew a bit about social networking, and websites, but it was only through applying that to a Church situation that I was able to be considered an expert in that field.
  2. Develop that knowledge, and refine it to be able to share that knowledge. It’s said that those that can’t do, teach. However, you need to be able to do and teach – it’s no use being able to do this stuff if you can’t share it in a way that is able to be understood by the general population.
  3. Constantly challenge yourself. It is through challenging ourselves that we grow, not only in knowledge, but as people. We learn what we are able to do when under stress, we learn what we will do when placed in difficult situations. Challenge yourself to constantly be at the edge, not because you need to but because you want to.

Are you an accidental expert? How did you get there?

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Author: Ben Clapton

I'm an Officer in The Salvation Army, currently appointed with my wife as Corps Officers at the Rochester Corps in country Victoria (20 minutes out of Echuca). I play violin and guitar, amongst many others, and love golf and running.

2 thoughts on “How I accidentally became an expert (and how you can too!)”

  1. Ben – someone once gave me a very unflattering definition of an expert – “ex = something on its way out; spurt = a drip under pressure”. I must say Neil Bohr’s definition is much more constructive! I’ve got a book “The Blogging Church” by Brian Bailey that I’ve dipped into now and again. Sing out if you’d like a go at it.

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