Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Become an Expert in Six Months

Someone once suggested that if a person would study a given topic for one hour a day, five days a week for five years, he could be a world renowned expert on the subject. When you think about it, it seems to be true. That doesn’t mean that you are an expert on everything you have been doing for five years, but if you were to deliberately study a subject—any subject—with the intent of becoming an expert, you could reach your goal.

A working year is 2,000 hours. Five hours a week times five years is 1,300 hours. Just imagine if you could take on this task as your job. You would take up your work each day, looking for things you could learn about the subject that you hadn’t learned before. You would begin your time studying what others have written on the subject, but you would soon exhaust their work and you would start looking for new things. In a little more than half a year, you could be an expert. We see that happen all the time in the engineering world. An engineer is given a new assignment and he has many questions for those who are already working the assignment, but within six months he will find himself in a position that the questions he has are such that there is no one else who has the answer yet either.

If you pick a subject and put in the time to become proficient in the subject, what happens next? You will reach a point where you are hard pressed to find a book that tells you much you don’t already know. You’ll glean a detail here and there, but most of the book is just a repeat of your knowledge. So you might do some experiments and try some things to see what happens. You’ll have a few successes and many failures. You’ll start thinking, “I wish someone had told me this would happen. I wish someone had written this in a book.”

Novelist Toni Morrison said, “If there’s a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” When you reach a point in your research on a topic where you can’t seem to find a book that will take you deeper into the subject, when you reach the point where you are thinking, “If someone had explained this better, it wouldn’t have taken me so long to reach this point, it is time for you to write that book. You be the one to explain it better. You be the one to take the topic deeper. If that requires more experimentation, do it. If that requires interviewing people, do it. You’ve put in the time. You’ve done the research. Share your knowledge with the rest of us so we won’t have to do what you have already done. We might even pay you for your trouble and be glad to do it.