How to become an expert in anything

We’re exposed to problem solving at a young age. One of first and most vexing dilemmas that we face as kids is one of larceny. Whoever did the crime must be a genius though–as after decades of asking, we still can’t begin to fathom the identity of the person who stole the cookie from the cookie jar.

See, that song shows us how to ask questions to get information, and use that information to begin to make assumptions and theories–and in turn test those theories to get a better understanding of whatever goes on. That’s all very well as kids, but what happens when we grow up into successful adults with many important things to do and have to get up to speed on things quickly.

That’s where having a clear definition of one’s role in a group or discussion as well as having a standard list of questions helps ease the transition. Keep in mind, the title of this is how to become an expert in anything–not how to fake being an expert. One of the first things to note is that it’s important to not pretend being an expert, and to not be afraid to ask for clarification. Things are rarely two-sided, and the multiple facets of problems make it easy to find some sort of common ground or serve as a lunching point into your rapid exploration of a new topic or idea. Knowing what your role is in the group will help. Being included in a problem solving session of anything means that your knowledge in your area is desired–use that as a first hint. To contribute based on that knowledge, it’s a good idea to speak from your perspective as a knowledgeable person in _____. From there, let discussions evolve how they will.

Expert Cookie Jar

Secondly, there are certain key questions to ask before attempting to get really involved, namely the problem at hand and the goal. Asking these questions can help adjust the input that you give. Since everyone is different, and since no two situations are alike, your questions will be different from mine.

Some of the ones I tend to ask are:

  • What are we trying to do here?
  • Why is this problem being acted on now?
  • What do you mean by _________?
  • Where are we in terms of progress?
  • What has already been tried?
  • Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar?

In time, as I get more experience in life, my questions will change. And that’s ok. It’s the taking the time to develop good questions and good question-asking abilities that is the real important skill in life.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve a stray cookie to track down.


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