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Are you an expert?

Posted in: Running a business
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During a recent briefing our Managing Director asked  “Are there any experts here?”, and was duly greeted by a wall of silence. The tumbleweeds rolling past held me back from raising my own hand, not one person was willing to claim that they are an expert.

What is an expert?

Baffled by the response I Googled ‘define expert’ and here are some of the characteristics mentioned; widely recognized as a reliable source of technique or skill, excellence, well distinguished, extensive knowledge, experience, and special knowledge of a subject beyond that of the average person.

talk to the experts

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In order to determine if I qualify, I now have to ask what is expected of me, and what the average person has expected of them before I could label myself as an expert, then I’d have to check what quantifies recognition…is it a title, qualification, pay, an extra star on my McDonalds name badge? How wide is widely recognised, who judges this, who debates others claims to expertise and how do we deal with disputes when someone is questioned about their claim of excellence?

Ok, so I’m beginning to understand others unwillingness to provide self-recognition. Now my ponderings move onto why we were asked the question and what they thought of the empty response they got.

Embracing success

I spoke to our Managing Director Jim Scott and to start with there’s no doubt in his mind that there definitely is and was experts within the room, Jim felt that the reluctance to claim that you’re an expert is a very British one, we tend to not compliment ourselves and find it difficult in our culture to stand on top of rooftops and embrace our individual success’s. It may also be fear with the individual that if they claim to be the best, that they may be challenged and have to defend their claim of being an expert.

So why are we asking about experts? Well we’re currently working with 830,000 UK businesses; and we strive to be the software company that everyone recommends. People come to us because we’re the best at what we do, and we should pride ourselves in what we deliver and achieve. One way we can achieve this is to ensure we have experts in the roles required, or at least recognise those that meet the requirements.

Take two companies:

Company A) Full of experts, not afraid to call themselves the best, embracing their achievements and accomplishments, proud of their products and services.

Company B) Mediocre, happy at being average or the jack of all trades, happy to deliver a product or service and not that they delivered the best product or service.

Who would you rather work for, what company would you preference to do business or interact with, who’s software or services would you rather spend your money on?

Am I an expert? I would ordinarily say ‘I’m just a man’, however I am looking forward to either becoming one, or getting that extra star on my name badge to qualify me as one.

Steve Cartlidge – Customer Services TSL / Technical Author

Posted in: Running a business
19 comment


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  • Riz

    Very insightful Mr Cartlidge

  • Zoheb

    I think we all have atleast the potential to call ourselves experts but its often a matter of confidence. In the meeting that day I was one of many who probably was held back from raising my hand because no-one else was doing so. If we all start to build confidence and allow staff to tell their bosses what they want support with and not just be given what ‘the business’ thinks they are best to build on, then we will automatically gain a sense of involvement, belonging and pride to be an expert of our own making.

  • Ben D


    If modesty holds you back, i will happily state that you are an expert for our department, you have an incredibly focused approach to your job, your always looking for the best approach to a problem and everyone comes to you for advice.
    Although the third fact is kind of in your job spec..

  • Ben Poole

    It’s All Relative

    In order to know if I am an expert I would need to have a knowledge of the relative skill of other people within my field. As I am incapable of viewing all of the work of all the people in my trade, the most efficient way of judging my own knowledge is through standardized examinations.

    This is one the reasons revered professions such as medicine place so much importance on grading systems. When you go to the Drs you can have a measure of confidence in their opinion as an expert because they have passed tests which have been set by knowledgeable members of their field.

    If the Dr upon passing his test were to have no contact with other members of his field he would soon be unable to confidently call himself an expert. For example a Dr for repairing broken fingernails may pass university and begin his practice repairing fingernails with a 60% success rate -average in his field.

    If the same Dr were to open a practice in the centre of a Tibetan mountain continue repairing fingernails for the next 10 years he may reach a success rate of 65%.

    However, as he has no contact with other members of his field he is unaware that the success rate for repairing fingernails is now 90% and he is no longer an expert.

    Alternatively, due to eyelash repair experiencing a surge in popularity all of the knowledge that our good Dr learned about fingernails has been lost to the world and the average success rate for fingernail repair is now 40%. This would mean that the Dr’s fingernail repair rate of 65% now makes him the leading expert in his field.

    The Drs ability to repair fingernails in both cases is the same at 65%. It is the relation of that Dr’s skill to other members of his field that makes him an expert or not.

    So, how could I know if I am an expert in the product I support? I need a system which allows me to compare myself against others in my field and the best system people have come up with so far is, despite their numerous flaws, standardized examinations*.

    But what do I know, I’m just a man!

    *Of course the only way to know the quality of an examination is to compare it against other examinations in its field!

  • John Channon

    Often ‘expert’ is a relative term. I’m sure most of our customers would consider people on support to be experts in the software, while we would (in most cases!) think of the customers as being experts in accountancy. Regular support guys would consider TSLs as being experts, who in turn would probably think of the developers or their support people as being experts in their field.

    I think we could all claim some level of expertise (we are good at what we do), but as you say we often don’t want to blow our own trumpet or are afraid of having the claim tested!

    I might have said that a true expert would know everything about their subject and would have perfect recall, so need to look things up etc, but does that exist anywhere? Would at least require years of experience and a very good memory.

    I once worked in the fruit and veg department of a supermarket, and my boss at the time used to tell us we were the experts (as much as a motivational tool) because we knew what the apples were called, where they came from and when they might be in season, but we didn’t know how apples were born (think it was in a factory), what their DNA structure was or how they are processed by the human body when eaten, but why would a supermarker customer ask that!? If we could answer the questions we’d expect (and some we wouldn’t expect) a customer to ask, then aren’t we an expert?

    Further to that, the departments were reorganised so that we didn’t just deal with fruit and veg, but also fresh meat, dairy, bread and pretty much all perishables. We were given very basic training (for example in cutting up joints of meat – I’m no butcher but I did spend a while hacking large fillets, shoulders, legs and so on, and badly!) and so lost our expertise, and just became jack of all trades. Overall quality suffered as a result.

    At Sage we generally focus on one product at a time, so we can become experts at that and not have to spread ourselves so thin that we only know a little about a lot.

    Also, consider how good we are as a company compared to some others, and even the fact that customers often contact us for legislation advice because they don’t feel Mr Taxman is as helpful or knowledgeable as we are.

    And as an example of a non-expert, I recently had to contact my internet provider for some advice, but the advice I was given was so basic I felt they had misunderstood my question completely and just sent me the most basic help guide. Whoever sent me that (this was AFTER the query had apparently been escalated) was definately NOT an expert.

    Everything is relative, but I would say that pretty much anyone in Sage is an expert in what they do!

  • David Cartlidge

    Very interesting. I’ve found that the more you get to know most ‘experts’ the more human and ‘normal’ you realise they are. Being willing to sell yourself and talk up your abilities can be a very beneficial trait to have.

  • Stephen

    Very insightful and from the point of view of someone embracing the expert role.

  • Adam Calverley

    Great Blog topic again steve. from my opinion you are an expert. in the same way in my team i have at least 10 experts they just need to aknowledge their greatness then live up to it.

  • Asif Shaikh

    I think when customers call us experts that says it all, we just need to believe that ourselves. having confidence in our ability is key.

  • Mo Sidat

    I personally feel it is difficult to self-proclaim yourself an expert unless this has been validated by the people that are directly impacted by your work. This is where the LNA can help and plays a part as it shows what you need to know to be competent, exceed and be an expert at your role. This was probably why no one responded to the question in the briefings as we have not put this sort of structure in place for people and therefore difficult to determine where you sit on the scale.

    From what I see this is where we are moving towards and therefore in a years time more people will be confident to stand up and say they are an expert!

  • Tim Wildash

    Good article, lets all aim to be company A and celebrate achievements!

  • Gina Bowyer

    I think an expert is anyone who in sicerely interested in what they do , and definately naturally talented at it. I also strongly believe that an expert does not claim to know all that there is to know about something as they would be aware that there is always something to learn ; as things – like life – are ALWAYS changing. An expert knows how to adjust , think on their feet and also learn from other “experts” – their colleagues. So , I would say I’m an expert at anything that I enjoy , and we’re all brilliant if we’re just trying our best and are willing to learn as we go too. Nice article Steve.

  • Robert Offord

    Having met many “Experts” in my 35 years on this earth.
    It’s something I have never considered myself to be.
    I feel that no one truly is ever an “expert” as the world is forever changing and new things are being discovered all the time.
    We’re all “experts” in what we do with the knowledge we have, but as “experts” we should continue to grow and develop our expertise using the knowledge of other “experts” and non “experts” to keep our expertise up to date.

  • Matthew Pollard

    Very interesting topic.
    It’s a very British attitude to sneer at the idea of calling oneself an expert, and isn’t helped by the media frequently proclaiming as experts people who are no such thing.
    My own view is that an expert is one who has sufficient knowledge of an area to be able to apply and adapt that knowledge creatively in order to resolve new and complex queries.
    In terms of the conscious competence matrix, the expert would have to be in the unconscious competence quadrant.
    In ‘Outliers’, Malcolm Gladwell talks about 10,000 hours being required for someone to become a true, world-class, expert at something, but, as Ben and John have already said, these things are relative.
    It’s generally held now that there’s no such thing as a tax expert, because the area is far too large and complex for anyone to master it; instead, one has to be a capital allowances expert, a residence expert , a transfer pricing expert, and so on.

  • Naeem Azam

    Have the belief and you can be an expert!

  • Marcus T

    I think everybody is an expert at something. Whether you know what you are an expert in would depend on which area of the Johari Window is your expertise is currently sitting.

    Is is known to me but not others?
    is it know to others but not me?
    Is it know to me and others?
    Is it not known by me or others?

    Sometimes unless somebody points it out to you, you may never know what your field of expertise is.

  • Tony

    Very Interesting and insightful!

  • Saejal Deva

    Great blog topic Steve, and a very interesting read.
    I think being an expert is all a matter of opinion, and as there are so many defintions it is open to interpretation. A person who has vast knowledge about a subject may be considered an expert by others, but through modesty or lack of confidence, may be reluctant to admit it themselves. Some may not have the awareness that they are an ‘expert’ or may not want to acknowledge the fact, due to the expectations that they may be faced with. Personally I believe that a true ‘expert’ needs to recognise that they will never have infinite knowledge about a subject and there is always room to expand and develop your knowledge as things progress.

  • @SteCartlidge

    I’ve found the interest shown and comments made to be a true reflection of peoples commitment here at Sage.

    My final comment will be something I found about being an expert, referred to as the 10,000 hour rule…

    “The 10000 Hour Rule is just that. This is the idea that it takes approximately 10000 hours of deliberate practice to master a skill.
    For instance, it would take 10 years of practicing 3 hours a day to become a master in your subject. It would take approximately 5 years of full-time employment to become proficient in your field. Simply work out how many hours you have already achieved and calculate how far you need to go. You should be aiming for 10000 hours”

    I don’t think this is an end all be all definition, however I am now interested to see how many people raise their hands next time this question is asked.