How to Become an Expert in (nearly) Anything

women talking
Photo by Toa Heftiba / Unsplash

Coach It

As a subset of that, teach it.

As a subset of that, become a mentor.


Michael Ellsberg wrote a good book this year. I say good and not great because I think he made an even better summary in this article (but you should still read the book). I think this may have been one of the best written and most useful blog articles I read in 2011.

As a general advocate for education reform and as someone who considers it basically my job to educate others, I have been very intrigued by the study of expertise acquisition.

When I see it presented in as simplified a method as Mr. Ellsberg does, I’m hopeful that people change their perception of education, back to that of a coaching model.

In the article, Michael Ellsberg lays out 8 steps to getting what you want without formal credentials. Of the 8, 5 are inherently linked, and perhaps ironically linked to the old coaching model.

  1. Choose your new field of learning (Decide what expertise you wish to seek)
  2. Showcase your learning (start a blog, read 16 or so, of the top books in the field you wish to explore, and write a blog post about each)
  3. Within Your Budding Social Economy, Start Working For Free (essentially an apprenticeship)
  4. Develop case studies of your work (essentially reflect upon your apprenticeship through your blog)
  5. Develop relationships with Mentors (Coaching!!!)

Honestly, what ever happened to this model of education?

In the days of Aristotle, Plato sought Aristotle’s teachings and learned directly under him. Leonardo Da Vinci studied, not at a University, but with master practitioners like Verrocchio. Benjamin Franklin apprenticed in the printing business under his brother James.

My own formal education (particularly at a University level) seemed more poised to develop me as a Researcher or University Professor. Neither of which I really wanted to end up as, but oddly enough I love researching ideas on my own time and spend the majority of my professional life teaching others how to enhance the quality of their lives.

Retroactively speaking, I believe I’ve learned far more from practitioners, mentors and coaches than I did in any particular university class.

What I think Ellsberg is proposing, is essentially a return to this style of learning.

A heavy highlight from the article is that employers are looking for skill sets, not the typical education of today.

I’ll say that one again, people want skill-sets, not credentials.

As a coach I’ve been preaching skill acquisition as a strategy for most of what ails you as an individual (particularly in health and fitness) because it just plain works.

When you learn new skills though, and you then teach it and coach or mentor others, this is how you really develop expertise in my opinion. It forces you to analyze data and critically think about the application, creating the necessity of learning to dissect information and make it your own.

It also taps into the many input methods for learning (forget about your learning style, it’s bunk). With a coaching style of teaching you expose students to various visual, auditory, kinesthetic, tactile, interpersonal, linguistic, social and other stimulus that are critical in development.

The 9 types of intelligence.

A cornerstone in your quest to become an expert should be to develop good skills.

On a final note, the only reason, I say Michael Ellsberg’s book is good and not great, is sadly because these four authors beat him to the punch on the acquisition of expertise.

The Four Best Books Written on Talent Acquisition:

  1. Talent is Overrated
  2. The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance
  3. The Talent Code
  4. Bounce

Darren Beattie

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