Kicking Butt and Revisiting Expertise

March 6, 2006 by Jared Goralnick

Every once in a while I’ll read something that gives me a swift (but helpful) kick in the butt. Such was the case with Kathy Sierra’s post on the Creating Passionate Users Blog: “How to be an Expert.” She points out that in order to be an expert one needs to be dedicated enough to make it through both the fun elements and the difficult details of their field. Sierra argues that neuroscience suggests that the truly successful are not merely “naturals” who started at a young age but are the people who were willing to suck it up and fight through the challenges. She points out:

Most of us want to practice the things we’re already good at, and avoid the things we suck at. We stay average or intermediate amateurs forever.

I feel that the longer I’m in this business the more I take on work in a narrower sphere. Part of that is because that focus ensures my expertise for my clients. However, I know that it’s also because I’ve grown more comfortable with familiar work. While I’m always taking on new projects, in some ways I’ve grown more risk averse because of the comfort of knowing there’s plenty to do with my existing skill-sets.

When I started SET a few years ago that wasn’t the case. I had some experience, but for every one thing I knew there were two things I didn’t know. At the time I had to learn it all–both to be able to understand the business and because I literally couldn’t afford to pay others for their assistance.

The lesson learned from that bootstrapping was twofold:

  1. You really can learn things if you just stick it out.
  2. Knowledge in areas peripheral to your core expertise will make you that much sharper and adept at solving the core problems.

In other words, not only was it possible to work through the challenges, but it made business-as-a-whole easier, faster, and more worthwhile. For instance, understanding the business-side of technology made it much easier to respond to the needs of my clients. Understanding the existence of a bottom-line helped to guide a lot of the technology consulting I provided.

Now that things are fairly stable I once again need to revisit some of the areas outside of my core strengths. It’s been a while since I’ve written code, having left it to my developers, but I have a feeling that I need to revisit some development methodologies and object models. There are some new projects related to our core training business I’ve wanted to try for a long time…and it’s time to get going.

But I’m not writing here to get you interested in my progress, I just hope that you find this article equally inspiring.

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2 Responses to “Kicking Butt and Revisiting Expertise”

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  1. – Objective validation that you’re awesome


  1. Ron Friedmann

    For a somewhat related and broad perspective on what it takes to succeed, see David Maister’s recent article It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Much You Want It at The title is a pretty good summary.

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