Gaining Expert Knowledge

My last piece may have left you thinking that expert knowledge is over-rated.  What I wanted to get you thinking about was:
  • the way that we make decisions about experts — often independent of their knowledge and ability to assist us;
  • situations where knowledge is not decisive — mass market businesses;
  • the folly of justifying a point of view to the general public.
When does expert knowledge matter?
As individuals, we operate in a tight circle of contacts.  Within my life, there are a hundred people with whom I interact frequently and about a thousand that I come across annually.  Every single week I’m working with people in Singapore, Norway, Hong Kong, Switzerland, the UK and North America.  While the location of my team is interesting, the value of being a knowledge-based worker is my location.  All I need is a telephone and a computer that’s hooked up to the internet.  That’s good but also means that there are very low barriers to entry.

I never set out to become an expert in the fields where I have specific competency.  I was fortunate to stumble into areas where I could work really, really hard with world class people.  With both finance, and triathlon, I worked for a decade before going truly independent.  In finance, I helped establish an investment management business.  In triathlon, I founded Endurance Corner (coaching, training camps and adventure travel).  Both those start-up opportunities were rewarding and resulted from a decade of acquiring expert knowledge.

What does it mean to be an expert?
An expert differs from a pundit.  Experts help people get stuff done — raise money, invest capital, communicate with others, focus on what matters, deliver results.  Pundits are viewed as experts due to our human bias towards people that make a lot of noise and critisize others. An easy way to spot this bias in action is write a list of “the smartest people” on a public chat forum.  Our minds will default to what stands out (noise, negativity, scandal).  If you want to appear smart then get out in public and criticize.  It’s not a healthy way to live but it is effective for one’s market position.

How can I acquire specific, unique, world class knowledge?
  • Train yourself to be world class – be the brand
  • Associate with world class individuals – everyone loves talking about themselves, learn from the best
  • Share your knowledge, and hone your market position, by sharing and teaching
  • Specialize — focus where you can be uniquely world class
  • Complete a thousand of case studies — you will be deeply biased by your personal successes (and failures); counteract bias by working against your preference
  • Write a thousand blog posts on your passion
  • Write a book based on the twenty five posts that most responded with others
That’s the road map that I followed.  Accidentally at first, then, intentionally.

If that seems daunting (and it would have been for me) then do this:
  • Daily – help one person in your area of passion (chat forums are golden for this)
  • Weekly – write a short article (300-400 words), or make a video clip, about something that you recently learned
  • Monthly – read a best seller, or watch a documentary, about your passion
  • Annually – attend a seminar from a world leader in your field
While you are doing your “homework” (above), become extremely proficient at doing what you hope to teach.  If you want to make a living then you need to be balanced in your approach between learning, doing and teaching.  Each of us will have a weak link.  Get help for your weakest link. It’s a lot easier to partner with an expert in your weak area than try to change the way you are.  That’s why Endurance Corner is a team of coaches and we work with really smart athletes — we are all better off together.

Becoming Independent
Does the above result in a job, a business, a career?  It does but only if you are willing to work at the business of helping others.  Finance is a field that’s weighted to helping one’s self and I didn’t make the leap.  In triathlon, once I (truly, and honestly) made the jump the results were immediate and material.

  • What do others think you do well?
  • How/when do people respond to you?
  • Where do these people spend time?
  • How do people find out about you?
If you listen then the market (and your circle) will give you feedback on the above.  Pay attention to what you do well, do more of it, and expose yourself in areas where people can see you performing well.

Be ruthless in your evaluation of the competitive position of your knowledge.  Here’s my knowledge funnel:
  • Valuing businesses and investments (competition is tens of thousands)
  • Coaching endurance sport (competition is thousands)
  • Coaching triathlon (competition is hundreds)
  • Coaching Ironman (competition is tens)
  • Coaching high performing amateurs for long course triathlon (competition is a handful)

While there is a lot of margin available in finance, my competition is tens of thousands and I’m probably going to be tied down geographically.  By narrowing my niche, I reduce my competition but make sure you’re left with a market!

Daily, Weekly, Monthly, Annually — focus on that.




    A – Here’s an article on a Thousand True Fans as well as a counter argument.  The articles, and comments, will offer insight.  A comment in the counter argument points out that it takes a decade to build a viable market position (as an expert).  Ten years to become world class at a unique niche… that seems fast to me.  Helps to enjoy the journey!



    Understanding Expert Credentials

    I gave a talk recently on success.  Within that talk, I spoke about what to look for when choosing an advisor.

    A – Success in multiple fields (to reduce the role of chance)

    B – Experience helping people like you, achieve goals like yours (specific advisory competency)

    C – Alignment of values (we trend towards our role models)

    That’s all fine and dandy but I get hired on that basis less than 5% of the time!

    Here’s what most people look for in an advisor:

    • Tall
    • Good looking
    • Well dressed
    • Specific personal success.  For example: wealthy (financial advisor), fast (athletic advisor), intelligent (academic advisor)
    • Well known in personal peer group

    The above are what generate initial enquiries (and why this blog is light on photos – I prefer to stack up on my merits).  If you don’t believe me then invert (short, ugly, poorly dressed, visible personal failures, unknown in your peer group).  The five points are what get you a chance to bid on the business.  The fact that this has nothing to do with ability to perform, isn’t important (until you have to start working with the individual).

    Firms, and people, with an understanding of bias create systems to help them balance their programming.  The ABCs that started this article are a good checklist.  You’ll probably still choose the best looking candidate but at least they are likely to have something to offer.

    Fortunately, the reasons that we stay with an adviser are significantly different:

    • Cares about me;
    • Is responsive to my needs;
    • I’m getting results; and
    • Brand image.

    If you consider why you stay in a relationship, at a firm, in a team… then you’ll likely find your reasons fall into those categories.  To those I’d add: fear of change; and switching costs.  

    Remember that we score everything in relative terms – if you want to score well then you need to be relatively better.  It’s also why you should think very careful about the choices you make in your relative environment.  If you have a desire to feel fast, rich, educated, well dressed or successful then your choice of relative environment will be an essential factor.

    Advisers can waste a huge amount of time on focusing on “being right”.  If you think through the dynamics of a successful relationship then only a small part of the life cycle will be due to specific knowledge.  Only a little hinges on being an expert (but, at the sharp end, a little means a lot).  The more mass-market your positioning, the less actual knowledge plays in success (it only takes a little knowledge to be an expert relative to the mean).  

    Choose wisely.




    A – Tim Ferriss is the best example I know on creating a perception of expert credentials.  He is a master of the mass market and worth studying.

    B – Read Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion to better understand how we make decisions

    C – The roadmap doesn’t matter until you’ve established an ability to control your direction.  Focus on creating habits of consistent self-direction and work – your coaches, parents, teachers, colleagues… they will serve you best when they help you learn to control the impulses that work against success.  

    D – I strongly believe in the value of world-class knowledge and will share ideas on it’s acquisition in a future piece.