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04.01.21

The Rise of the Insta-Expert (and Why You Should Be One)

by Ben Gaddis

Raise your hand if you’re an NFT expert? Ok…how about if you even know what an NFT is? Simply knowing the definition would likely put you in the top 0.1% — and if you’re one of the few who have spent time analyzing them, you’re way ahead of the curve. 

Flexing your NFT knowledge — or that of something equally rare — is just the latest example of a prime opportunity for establishing rapid expertise in a field of growing significance. 

Fifteen years ago, I raised my hand to focus on an emerging new category: mobile. No one else wanted it, so my solitary interest in it earned me the title of Head of Mobile…even though I knew nothing about it. So I studied everything I possibly could, speaking with experts, making industry connections, consuming every data point and think piece I could find, and volunteering to work on every relevant project that presented itself. That self-appointed focus area — with zero background or training in it — forever changed my career. My newly acquired expertise just happened to be the future of the world. I wasn’t an expert when I moved into that space, but I soon became one — and that made all the difference. 

Now, I often tell our current and prospective employees that the fastest way to become successful in our company is to find an area where they are the best, demonstrating the most significant expertise in our company. That alone can accelerate their careers by five years; it gives them a reason for being in the room, which in turn affords them even more knowledge and invaluable experience. BUT you have to put in the work to acquire that expertise — and that starts with figuring out where you should focus. 

Selecting and Developing Your Expertise

Becoming an expert on emerging platforms and topics is a skill you can develop without additional schooling or extensive prior knowledge. A voracious appetite for reading and a commitment to staying up-to-date as the topic or platform evolves is key, as is dedicating time to living and operating inside of that world. From there, your powers of analysis come into play: Can you take a step back and deduce how this platform or topic might reshape society? How might it influence how we live and work? What new opportunities might arise? For whom? What factors will come into play? 

It might feel overwhelming to figure out where to rest your attention but start by looking at the intersection of where your natural curiosities, interests, and existing tangential knowledge and expertise overlap with emerging fields and inventions. Perhaps it’s a new social media platform or blockchain technology or augmented reality or any other number of categories that are still on the rise and promise to play a role in society in the coming years. Let’s say you start hearing about a new emerging technology. You start by reading about its distinguishing characteristics, what’s new and notable about it, and how people are engaging with it. Then you consume as much information on the topic as possible. 

Learning how to bridge the gap between knowing where to focus your effort, putting in the work, and translating it into market value is the key to your insta-expert success. For instance, if your potential area of expertise is TikTok, your research is not limited to watching TikTok videos, but also to developing an understanding of features and trends, learning how it compares to rival platforms, studying popular content creators, analyzing potential acquisitions, etc. Then comes the synthesis: How can you communicate this knowledge in a way that is valuable for people? Layering your own POV on top of that research is your personal secret sauce for jumping from a well-informed person to an expert people call on. 

Why Companies Need More Insta-Experts

Becoming an expert on an emerging topic or platform in a short period of time is not only a skill you can consciously develop — it’s also a skill that companies need (even if they don’t realize it). Historically, large organizations and ambitious individuals believed they must follow a traditional path, moving through a set hierarchy and extended timeframe to acquire expert status. On many topics, this approach is now largely outdated. Silicon Valley, in particular, has long understood that smart, motivated people can quickly absorb and synthesize information and thrive in a role without extensive experience. Now the rest of the world is finally catching on. 

If your organization is focused exclusively on experts with advanced degrees in a field or decades of hyper-focused experience, you will almost certainly be behind the curve when it comes to capitalizing on the opportunities presented by emerging technologies and niche subject areas. Yes, people need to dedicate themselves to cultivating this expertise, but organizations also need to consciously nurture and reward individuals who rise to the challenge. 

Engaging in intensely focused research and hard work over a very short period of time can have outsized results in today’s high-speed, innovation-oriented world, and becoming an expert at more things at a younger age in a condensed period of time is more possible than ever. These ever-expanding topics and platforms demand more experts, and if you follow this process, your professional opportunities could multiply in a matter of months, not years or decades. 

So why not you?

Ben Gaddis