Image by Francisco Huguenin Uhlfelder

Image by Francisco Huguenin Uhlfelder

It was one of the most bizarre weeks in my career.

I was working for a huge global IT firm at the time, and I was working on a challenging technical issue.  Back in the 1980s, we didn’t have the whole world’s knowledge at our fingertips, so I started asking around.

I ended up talking to dozens of people around the globe.  Nobody had the answer to my question, but they had various pieces of the puzzle.

At the end of the week, I talked with a person who said he’d heard of a guy in Colorado who was doing work in this area.  SCORE!  Then he gave me my name.

So.  I’m the company’s expert on the topic I’m trying to learn.

At first I was disappointed, because it seemed like I’d wasted a week chasing contacts around the world.  But then I realized that this was an amazing opportunity:

  • If I’m an expert, that means I get to decide on the best course of action.
  • I’d just spent a week talking to a whole bunch of people, getting a great view of the state of the industry in this area.  I’d acquired a whole bunch of useful knowledge.

Here’s what I learned through this:  One becomes expert by asking questions and following threads of knowledge.  People who are “experts” don’t actually have all the answers.  It’s just that we’re willing to defer to their judgment because they have a more comprehensive view and experience than we do.

At least that’s what we want to believe.

The reason this came to mind this week is because I’m in a similar situation regarding social media for service organizations.  It’s an area where I need to learn more right now, but when I go back and ask others, I find out that what I’ve learned so far is actually on par, often ahead, of others in my organization.

In this particular small context, I might be closer to the “expert” than I’d thought.  But by asking questions, I’m learning a huge deal.

Would you like to be the expert in an area?  Start digging.  Be humble, ask questions, and learn as much as you can.  You may just get there.

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