Culture of Experts

Module #2

Unconventional Expert Characteristics


Throughout history, traditional institution-guided experts have been looked at with a certain reverence. Considered extremely educated and highly skilled, they are respected for their mastery of foundational disciplines. These disciplines were, and still are, established schools of thought and documented bodies of work, best represented within colleges, universities, trade schools and apprenticeship programs. They are often supported by third party associations, organizations or accreditation bodies that designate requirements and certify or license their disciplines. They hold a rich history and are foundational to our economy and culture. These traditional institution-guided experts include engineers, electricians, software developers, accountants, carpenters, lawyers, teachers, plumbers, architects, medical professionals, HR representatives, insurance agents, investment brokers and most professional-level positions and skilled trades.


In the age of the internet, information is quickly at our fingertips. Because of this, there exists a contemporary breed of experts. Where traditional institution-guided experts are deeply rooted within stationary schools of thought, this contemporary breed of experts will thrive on real-time information, with the use of the internet as a tool. Outside of a standardized way of thinking, they will focus on the relevancy of information, as it pertains to the work that is directly in front of them. These contemporary experts are every bit as complex as traditional institution-guided experts, in that they own an individual worker-process. This work-process guides them when more traditional processes are absent. Within their work-process, they foster curiosity, initiate activity, gain relevant information, discover possibilities, strategize, commit to a project, create ideas, realize ideas, test ideas and often fail. They use failure as a platform for new and better ideas. Much like eating, they do all of this automatically, without even thinking about it.

Meet this contemporary breed of experts: Unconventional Experts

Although, the internet has given Unconventional Experts an entryway to the the world’s information, it is important to understand, Unconventional Experts are not new. They invented personal computers. They invented the wheel. 

What differentiates Unconventional Experts?

Unconventional Experts are workers who create and own a complex individual work-process. Certainly, they work within the guidelines of operational company-process, but their individual work-process is what they use to explore the world around them. This work-process might look something like this:

1) Foster curiosity
2) Initiate activity
3) Gain relevant information
4) Discover possibilities
5) Strategize
6) Commit to a project
7) Create ideas
8) Realize ideas
9) Test ideas, find success or failure
10) Use failure as a platform for new and better ideas
11) Repeat part or all of the process
12) Eventually, find achievement
Bonus – Ultimately, gain some level of mastery

The individual work-process above is grossly oversimplified and its chronological order is a possible example, at best. The defining differentiator is the fact that every Unconventional Expert has a complex individual work-process; whether they realize it or not. It is their map, blue print, flow-chart, theoretical approach to complex work.

Unconventional Expert also have an individual work-journey. This is their mission, path, exploration, rabbit hole, experimentation. Their individual work-journey is far more than a work-process, it is their individual work-process in motion, in real world situations; forwarding the projects that they commit to. Like a real-life drama, their individual work-journey will tell a story of ambitions, activities, plots, understandings, misunderstandings, challenges, success, failure, overcoming failure and accomplishments. There are no guarantees in this story, except the guarantee that there will be personal growth.

The individual work-journey plays a large role in job satisfaction. Was the work intriguing or laborious? Was there exploration or clock-watching? Was the work rewarding or frustrating? Where the work-process is a formula for working things out, the work-journey is the chemistry between the worker and the work. Without a positive work-journey, the longevity of the project or position is at risk.

To gain better understanding of Unconventional Experts, here are 30 generalized characteristics. Possible interview questions are written in green, under each characteristic. These questions are very specific to expert-level work. If candidates are asked these questions, the should be given ample time to explore their work history for an appropriate answer.

1) Unconventional Experts do not typically recognize themselves as experts
Unconventional Experts do not always know that they are experts, as the knowledge they seek brings them to a new starting point.

Possible interview question(s):
In what specific areas do you consider yourself an expert?
Are there any areas where you do not consider yourself an expert, but others may? 

2) Unconventional Experts have intellectual curiosity
For Unconventional Experts, everything  starts with curiosity. They not only have intellectual curiosity, they are void of hesitation when it comes to pursuing it. They know that one discovery might raise two more questions, and are open to expanding the focus of their curiosity.

Possible interview question(s):
Name one specific topic that holds your curiosity?
What efforts have you taken to explore this curiosity?

3) Unconventional Experts do not take short cuts
Unconventional Experts work within a complex individual work-process of their own creation. To take a short cut would mean to short change their own process. When their intellectual curiosity forces expansion of their projects, Unconventional Experts will often take the longer of two paths.

Possible interview question(s):
Name a specific project you worked on where you chose to take a longer path to get more out of it?
What did you get out of it that you might not of gotten if you had taken a short cut?

4) Unconventional Experts believe in activity
Some people, within their careers, will not move forward with complex activities unless they are being directly compensated. These same people might have paid tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars for their college education, but once they are in their careers, they want all activity to pay. Because Unconventional Experts test ideas within their individual work-process, they are used to the risks associated with failure. They do not expect employers to cover all of their career risks and can commit to activity that does not come with direct monetary gain.

Possible interview question(s):
Name a specific project that you worked on voluntarily, only compensating in terms of experience?
What did you ultimately get out of it?

5) Unconventional Experts focus on relevant information
Unconventional Experts focus on knowledge that is closest to the action. Within a complex project, there are many moving parts. Strategy, the creation of ideas, the realization of ideas and the testing of ideas all requiring relevant information. Through trial and error, the relevancy of information is constantly being updated. Where task-oriented individuals want to see stability, Unconventional Experts thrive in an environment that evolves.

Possible interview question(s):
Name a specific project that you worked on, which required you to collect relevant information in order to move forward?

6) Unconventional Experts love strategy
Unconventional Experts love to strategize. It leverages their creativity to bridge their intellectual curiosity with activity.

Possible interview question(s):
Name a specific project that you worked on, which required you to strategize to a large degree before taking action?

7) Unconventional Experts have a flexible vision
Every project is preceded by a vision. Unconventional Experts are not fixed on one definite result, so their vision has some flexibility. To them, the promise of the journey is more present than a singular and specific vision of the potential results.

Possible interview question(s):
Name a specific project that you worked on, which turned out much different than your original vision?
What made the difference and what benefits, if any, came with the actual results over your original vision?

8) Unconventional Experts discover possibilities
Unconventional Experts discover possibilities and use them as primary motivation for their exploration. They understand, however, that this path never leads to an exact future. They do not bound themselves to any single direction. Along the way, they are constantly redefining what is possible. They are also open to finding hidden treasures, as exploration can lead to more possibilities.

Possible interview question(s):
Name a specific project that you worked on, which led to a completely different project, due to its surprising results?

9) Unconventional Experts make their own opportunities
Because Unconventional Experts work within their own complex individual work-process, it is not common for them to drop everything they are doing to chase an outside opportunity, for which they cannot themselves control. Within their work-process, they see opportunity as small vacuums that they can uniquely fill. For Unconventional Experts, opportunity is everywhere and their work-process is designed to explore it.

Possible interview question(s):
Name a specific opportunity that you saw and chased to the end, even though there were other opportunities to potentially pull you away?

10) Unconventional Experts take comfort in complexity
The work of Unconventional Experts is complex. Unconventional Experts are not necessarily complex people, on a personal level, but the complexities of their efforts easily come through within specific conversations surrounding their expertise.

Possible interview question(s):
Name a specific project that you took on, even though it was very complex?
What made it complex?

11) Unconventional Experts are project-oriented
At some point in time, Unconventional Experts put a border around their momentum and commit to it as a project.

Possible interview question(s):
Name a specific time when you noticed forward motion and committed to it, organizing it into an actual project?

12) Unconventional Experts think big
Because Unconventional Experts are project-oriented, they are used to projects of all shapes and sizes. Over time, they learn that the size of the project is only limited by their life span. Unconventional Experts take on huge projects. They do get frustrated when they bite off more than they can chew, but they continue to chew.

Possible interview question(s):
Name a specific project that you worked on, which would be considered huge by any standard?

13) Unconventional Experts have small ideas too
Unconventional Experts have ideas; large and small. It is easy to discuss ideas on a grand scale, and even romance invention. For Unconventional Experts, a new idea might be as simple as a new way to explain a product feature, so that customers can better understand. Small idea after small idea, good ideas are realized, realized ideas are tested; some ideas fail. Unconventional Experts use failure as a platform for new and better ideas. If the explanation of a product feature does not work, maybe a diagram will show better results. Sometimes, small ideas add up to big ideas. Over time, small ideas accumulate and amplify skill.

Possible interview question(s):
Name a specific idea that you worked with, that started very small and grew to be large?
Why did it grow to be large?

14) Unconventional Experts test ideas
Unconventional Experts aren’t only idea people, they are execution experts that are not afraid to develop ideas, test ideas and measure the results. Unlike traditional Institution-guided experts, they advance themselves outside of a purely scientific approach. Without hesitation, they put their ideas to use, within the real world, as an extension of their efforts. Sometimes, they don’t even recognize their ideas as ideas, but modifications to their individual work-process. With a trial and error mentality, they constantly evolve.

Possible interview question(s):
Name an idea that you put to work wkthin the real world, with a trial and error mentality?

15) Unconventional Experts become engulfed within a work-journey
When Unconventional Experts think about financial success, they do not see an end-situation that is void of a journey. When thinking about the purchase of a luxury item, they will not fully understand pride of ownership, as it might exist on its own. Unconventional Experts have an individual work-process. When it is encapsulated within a project, it takes on a life of its own. This is the heart of the story; the rabbit hole that leads them to the other side. Yes, Unconventional Expert do want to reach achievement. Call it, the end of the story. It is the work-journey, however, that will engulf their attention.

Possible interview question(s):
Name a specific project that you worked on which engulfed your attention?

16) Unconventional Experts are not wishful thinkers
Unconventional Experts do not wait for their ship to come in. They know that all real achievement is followed by a complex process. Luck is not factored in as a part of their complex individual work-process. They will never see complete value within windfall luck, as it is void of a work-journey.

Possible interview question(s):
Name a specific project that you worked on where you could have waited for luck, but chose to work diligently?
What was the end result?

17) Unconventional Experts see failure differently
Because they create ideas, realize ideas and test ideas, Unconventional Experts see failure within the scope of exploration; to-find or not-to-find. Not-to-find simply means to look in other places.

Possible interview question(s):
Name a specific project that you worked on which required you to accept failure quickly, make adjustments and moved on?

18) Unconventional Experts use failure as a platform
As they explore, Unconventional Experts springboard off of their failures. As relevant information experts, failure updates their information, as well as the relevancy of their information. This puts them in a position to create new and better ideas.

Possible interview question(s):
Name a specific idea that you worked on that was a direct descendant of a failure that came before it? What was the failure and how did it lead to new and better ideas?

19) Unconventional Experts are ever changing, always evolving
Because they are relevant information experts, Unconventional Experts are always changing. Even when obstacles are absent, they will improve the efficiencies and results of their individual work-process. When they look at accomplishments within a project, they see the accumulation of good ideas. When they see accomplishments within the world, they understand the inherent complexities and necessary evolution.

Possible interview question(s):
Name a specific project that you worked on that voluntarily improved and evolved over time, without any real failures to forced improvements?

20) Unconventional Experts use tools
Unconventional Experts are very focused on the tools, materials and medium used to forward a project. This is because they embrace the work-journey as much as they embrace the results of the work. Within their work-journey, Unconventional Experts see their tools within the same light as musicians see their musical instruments.

Possible interview question(s):
Name work that you performed, were you had mastery over a tool, using it so successfully, it seemed like a part of you?
What results did this tool allow you to accomplish?

21) Unconventional Experts seek methodology
Unconventional Experts look for situations where parts of their individual work-process can be repeated within a complex methodology. Within an organization, they might consider their methodology a secret sauce or a trade secret.

Possible interview question(s):
Name work that you performed that used unique methods that were specific to the way you would do the work?
How were your methods better than those of others who were performing the same tasks?

22) Unconventional Experts research
When using the internet as a tool, Unconventional Experts will research everything; including but not limited to: articles, manufacturer specifications, user reviews, instructional videos and Q & A through forums. To Unconventional Experts, the source of information can be as important as the information. Multiple sources of information can be important, to cross reference information.

Possible interview question(s):
Name a specific project that you worked on where you did intense internet search and/or general research?
Did you look at multiple sources to compare and confirm information?

23) Unconventional Experts are opinionated
Unconventional Experts create ideas, realize ideas and test ideas. Because of this, they have strong confidence in their findings. In addition, they are very passionate about the expert-trek they travel. For topics within their experience and expertise, they are very opinionated.

Possible interview question(s):
Name an expert whom you worked with who was both very knowledgeable and very opinionated?
How were the opinions helpful to the work progress? 

24) Unconventional Experts hold responsibility
One of the greatest advantages of Unconventional Experts is that they feel responsible for their individual work-process, as they create it. With responsibility comes hard work, commitment, loyalty, self-motivation and cooperation.

Possible interview question(s):
Name a project that you worked one where you took a high level of ownership?
What did that ownership look like, in terms of responsibilities that you took on, above and beyond expected responsibilities?

25) Unconventional Experts do not need to be micro managed
Because they work within their own individual work-process, Unconventional Experts can find their own way. They do need guidance, however, as they are still responsible for the requirements of their position and they still need to move in a direction that benefits the company.

Possible interview question(s):
Name a project that you worked one where you were self-directed in your efforts?
Name a specific task that had you going in a direction that benefited the company, even though you might have done things differently if you had owned the company?

26) Unconventional Experts thrive within unstructured environments
Within structured environments, Unconventional Experts can follow company-process, and revert to individual work-process, when needed. Within unstructured environments, where individual work-process needs to dominate, Unconventional Experts thrive.

Possible interview question(s):
Name a project that you worked one where you could no longer follow company process and needed to move in your own direction?
How did this benefit the company, over blindly following company process?

27) Unconventional Experts might not be book smart
Professional-level traditional institution-guided experts are generally classically educated. Unconventional Experts are relevant information experts, through the use of the internet as a tool. They do not need to be book smart, as the internet puts the world at their fingertips. Often, in the age of the internet, Unconventional Experts use internet search skills as a substitute for book smart.

Possible interview question(s):
Name a project that you worked one where you could use the internet to find information that was not readily available 40 years ago?
If you would not have had access to this information, how could this work be completed?

28) Unconventional Experts are self-educated
Whether or not Unconventional Experts have a college degree or trade school certification, they are informally educated through their individual work-process. Their knowledge may not always overlap that which is taught in the traditional educational institutions, however, they eventually learn the fundamentals of every practice, one way or another.

Possible interview question(s):
Name one of your skills that was self-taught, with little help from others and no help from a formal educational system?

29) Unconventional Experts are often extreme hobbyists
Unconventional Experts make good use of their free-time. Whether it be a hobby, art, DIY home improvement, connoisseurship, invention or discipline; Unconventional Experts have a tendency to apply themselves to personal projects within their spare time. Certainly, raising kids or working 70 hours a week can affect extracurricular activity, however, Unconventional Experts will have a history of personal projects.

Possible interview question(s):
Name a complex hobby, art, DIY home improvement, connoisseurship, invention or discipline that might demonstrate expert-level skills?
Describe the end results of your efforts?

30) Unconventional Experts are everywhere
… and no one is even looking.

How did they do?

Do Unconventional Experts fit into unconventional positions?

[√] Unstructured
[√] Complex
[√] Creativity-driven
[√] Strategy-dependent
[√] Project-oriented

If an Unconventional Expert is passionate about coffee; the bean, roasting process, grinder and coffee maker will be explored.

How can one tell if someone is an Unconventional Expert?

Once the concept of Unconventional Experts sinks in, it is relatively easy to spot them. The biggest tell is the free-time activities that they pursue outside of their careers. The same information that is typically overlooked within job interviews.

Unconventional Experts do not typically recognize themselves as experts, as the knowledge they seek brings them to a new starting point. You might already be an Unconventional Expert, without previously recognized it.

Fool’s Gold – know-it-alls are not Unconventional Experts
It is not unusual for know-it-alls to pose as experts. They often land in complex positions because they are able to convince leadership that their intelligence and confidence will drive their capabilities. Most often, they are more focused on the impressions they leave than the quality of work that they perform.

• Are driven by ego more than curiosity.
• Attempt to climb the corporate ladder and/or company unwritten hierarchy through the manipulation of information.
• Attempt to dominate coworkers through games of one-upmanship.
• Can hold important information close to the vest.
• Share information when it is to their advantage.
• Hold information that has a varied degree of accuracy.
• Have ideas, but they are often borrowed ideas and they are seldom tested.
• Will often fall short on activity, and try to get other people to perform important tasks that they feel are below them.
• Are rarely a good hire. Being able to spot them is a good skill to have.

Some Unconventional Experts openly share their relevant information; some do not. When Unconventional Experts share information, it is not to glorify themselves, but to benefit others. When they share their information and opinions, it is recommended to politely ask them for their source. If the information is within their expertise, they will probably have strong contact with it and an interesting story behind it, rather than information gleaned from a publication.

Self-Improvement Cheerleaders
There’s nothing wrong with promoting self-improvement, however, we all know someone who qualifies as a walking hang-in-there poster. They can easily provide canned encouragement, however, when it comes to individual work-process, they can’t seem to advance their own agenda as far as their recommendations to others.

Although they mean well, self-improvement cheerleaders attempt to add external tasks, where an innate foundation for success already exists: “If we simply do this, we will find success.” They default to an external additive approach, even when a subtractive approach is a better solution. Within a Culture of Experts, individual work-processes are very complex. A subtractive approach can mean the removal of organizational generalizations, stereotypes, habits and policies that stand as barriers to employee development.

Rarely are self-improvement cheerleaders Unconventional Experts. Often, they are potential Unconventional Experts trying to find their way.

Traditional institution-guided experts and Unconventional Experts share many of the same qualities.
Is it possible to be both?
Some of the best traditional institution-guided experts are also Unconventional Experts.
Some of the best Unconventional Experts are also traditional institution-guided experts.

Unconventional Experts versus Artificial Intelligence robots
Comparing work-process is an interesting exercise, as the exclusively human qualities of the Unconventional Expert become apparent. Intellectual curiosity is the spark and creativity is the fire.

An expert’s work-journey will never be replaced by AI. Within an expert’s work-journey, human flaws become advantages, human experiences create new paths and human nature provides contributions for human beings. The expert-trek is also unique to humans. While experts strive for mastery, AI will find achievement within consistency, self sufficiency and calculated decisions.

Unconventional Expert
Individual work-process

1) Foster curiosity
2) Initiate activity
3) Gain relevant information
4) Discover possibilities
5) Strategize
6) Commit to a project
7) Create ideas
8) Realize ideas
9) Test ideas, find success or failure
10) Use failure as a platform for new and better ideas
11) Repeat part or all of the process
12) Eventually, find achievement
Bonus – Ultimately, gain some level of mastery

Artificial Intelligence

1) AI accesses databases, leverages big data and makes observations
2) AI recognizes and categorizes information
3) AI calculates categorized information to make predictions
4) AI uses predictions to make decisions
5) AI uses decisions to commit to a physical movement towards a calculated result
6) AI monitors results of physical movement and determines success or failure

7) AI uses failure as a calculation to improve categorizations and machine learning
8) AI repeats part or all of the process until it finds successful physical movements
9) AI eventually finds achievement

Corporate Culture Assessment Questions
Module #2 – Unconventional Expert Characteristics

3) Name one person that you know, whom you would consider an Unconventional Expert?
4) Does your company look deeply into individual work-process when assessing candidates and employees?

See all of the module assessment questions in module #11 

Culture of Experts Interview Questions
Module #2 – Unconventional Expert Characteristics

5) Shown below, is an example of a general process, as a worker creates an individual work-process to address a complex task. How does this compare to your individual work-process, as you perform complex tasks?

1) Foster curiosity
2) Initiate activity
3) Gain relevant information
4) Discover possibilities
5) Strategize
6) Commit to a project
7) Create ideas
8) Realize ideas
9) Test ideas, find success or failure
10) Use failure as a platform for new and better ideas
11) Repeat part or all of the process
12) Eventually, find achievement
Bonus – Ultimately, gain some level of mastery

6) Within a career task or personal task, name a specific task that best leverages your individual work-process?

Tasks may include:
• A complex career task.
• A personal hobby, art, craft, DIY home improvement, connoisseurship, invention or discipline.
• The process for buying a big-ticket item, like an automobile or a house.

See all of the module interview questions in module #12

Culture of Experts is a free talent acquisition and employee development program created by Martin Haslinger. All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized duplication is a violation of applicable laws.

Please proceed to module #3: Expert-Trek: The Journey to Mastery

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