If consulting consists of providing and/or implementing expert advice, there are some key questions that we independent consultants must address: Who gets to label my advice as an expert one? Should I measure my expertise? If yes, why?
Can You Assess Expertise?
I started to tackle those questions in this previous post, where I posed the question of whether it is even possible to assess expertise. The answer is yes.
I believe there are a set of domain-independent proxies (DIPs) that can reliably inform you someone may be an expert. Using them, it's possible to independently assess whether someone is an expert in X, even if you are not an expert in X.
Once you accept this as true, the challenge of assessing (or cultivating) expertise becomes straightforward. You should research and discover which variables have a close correlation with domain knowledge, and then commit to acquiring or improving those features and capabilities in your consulting business.
This logic also means that expertise is not a binary (yes/no) variable - you can have a higher or lower level of expertise in a given domain. The bigger your expertise, the more valuable your advice will be. That's why calling someone an "expert" carries little meaning (although I'll continue using it in the post, for the sake of simplicity). What really matters is their level of expertise.
The "how" question for expertise assessment deserves a post on its own, so today I'll share with you the "why".
Why Should You Learn To Assess Expertise?
Every person, business, or organization have their own different goals and vision for the future. To improve their situation, they will need to implement changes on a (virtually infinite) number of domains. But no single person has the capacity to master all of them.
You can't understand both email marketing automation for ecommerce businesses and how to improve diversity and inclusion for healthcare companies, in-depth, at the same time. That's why we rely on experts.
We see, however, three main challenges when trying to identify experts:
- Some people fake expertise: I've written about it here and here. Some self-proclaimed experts straight up lie about what and how much they know of a topic. But some consultants may also overestimate their knowledge due to poor self-evaluation, which often happens with young professionals.
- Some people with a high level of expertise don't know they are experts: I've come across several highly skilled and experienced consultants who just weren't aware of how much domain expertise they had acquired. Many of them have learned by doing, and have excellent social skills.
- There are domains where the overall expertise level is low: I've quickly mentioned this here. In certain domains or industry niches, the standards can be low at the point where being the most recognized "thought leader" in the space or having a "PhD" at the end of your name are often not good indicators of expertise.
This is why you should learn how to assess expertise. First, to understand and improve the real value of your services. Second, to better evaluate who you can take advice from and who you can hire or collaborate with in the future.
If you have any personal story where you misjudged someone's expertise, drop me a line - I'd love to hear it. I'll share my domain-independent proxies (DIPs) that you can use to assess expertise in a couple of days.