Three Required Characteristics for Being an Expert

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This is the 2nd in a series of four posts about experts. Here is the introduction post where you can find the others.

I’m an expert in persuading people that math is not a fearful thing. I’m also an expert in ideas. I didn’t choose those areas of expertise. I just happen to have the three characteristics for being an expert in those areas.


Although all experts know about their area, not all experts know everything about their area. In fact, the only requirement is to have some surface knowledge.

Don’t be discouraged by lack of knowledge. A little goes a long way. The other two characteristics for becoming an expert are much more important.


Experts have passion about their area. When you talk with them they are energized and make you feel excited! You walk away thinking that it is the coolest thing ever.

If you know about an area and aren’t interested in it, you probably won’t achieve expert status. This is a good thing. This keeps you from falling accidentally into the guru status where everyone comes to ask you about something that you don’t really like.


This one is the kicker. You can have all the knowledge in the book and be excited about it but lack confidence and you’re dead.

I tell my students: “The only difference between you and me is that I’m confident in my screwups.” I will forge ahead on the whiteboard with minimal knowledge and a bunch of passion. My tenacity and confidence will make up for everything else. I end up being hugely successful. A student of mine who started the semester in terror left the final exam saying to me, “Do you think I could take Calculus? I think I could. I’m going to sign up.”

You don’t have to do the right thing. You only need to be confident you are doing the right thing.

The Knowledge-Passion-Confidence Cycle

You know a little. You are excited about it. You learn more. You talk to someone who asks you a question. You answer it confidently based on the information you know. Your passion shows through. You later look up the question and learn more on it. You get more excited…

What do you know about? Are you passionate about it? Once you have these two, you are on your way. The confidence is the hardest part. Tomorrow I’ll write about building confidence – and once you have it in one area, you have confidence across the board.


It isn’t hard to be an expert. Once you have the three characteristics, show them. There are plenty of great marketing resources to find out how to do that. Or you can do it like I did – purely by accident!

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2 Responses to Three Required Characteristics for Being an Expert
  1. Sylvain OBEGI
    September 14, 2010 | 1:51 pm

    Besides what you already pointed out, I think what makes one an expert is the willingness to both learn and teach. Often at the same time.
    If you’re not willing to learn, you won’t be an expert for long, and if you’re not willing to teach, how are you going to be regarded as an expert, and learn from others? Sometimes the best way to learn is to answer the question of a newcomer.

    PS: Thanks for the link 😉

    • Idearella
      September 16, 2010 | 1:24 pm

      You are right Sylvan. I have learned more by teaching than I ever did as an official learner.


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