Culture of Experts

Module #3

Expert-Trek: The Journey to Mastery

The Expert-Trek
The expert-trek is more than an individual work-process or work-journey. It is an expert’s long-term commitment to achieve mastery within a chosen circumference of expertise. When traditional institution-guided experts commit to an expert-trek, their circumference of expertise is generally outlined by their profession or trade, and mastery is expected. Because Unconventional Experts own their own work-process, onlookers will view their mastery as being focused or within a unique niche. Since there is no standardization for their unconventional mastery, it is often overlooked or underappreciated.

Unconventional Experts do not typically recognize themselves as experts and almost never assume the title of master. They are, however, always on an expert-trek to find mastery. The knowledge they find brings them to a new rung of the ladder, which changes their viewpoint and puts them one step closer to mastery. For them, the expert-trek is always a trek and never a set destination.

For company leadership, the expert-trek should be a part of corporate culture. It should be part of the long-term employee development that leads to the types of mastery that will benefit the company. Within some organizations, the only reveal of an expert-trek comes when someone leaves; when leadership can’t understand how such a committed employee could make a move to another company. They don’t understand that this person’s commitment was to their own expert-trek, exclusive to their commitment to the company. By adopting a Culture of Experts, companies can fully support and retain master-level employees.

For all who are on an expert-trek, they owe it to themselves to explore all options within their current organization before leaving. Before they leave one company and go to another, they should fully understand the specific long term advantages and disadvantages, relevant to their expert-trek. It is not unusual for people to change employers for an immediate increase in income, only to find uncompromising limitations to their long term growth. Limitations to long term growth will eventually translate to limitations in long term income. Long term growth for the expert means only one thing; development within their expert-trek. Within a job interview, candidates should ask many questions that revolve around their expert-trek.

What are some of the individual thoughts that hold people back?
• I don’t have enough time, money, luck, creativity, confidence, experience or education.
• There’s too much risk, risking mistakes, failure and/or humiliation.
• I don’t know the right people and the people I do know are holding me back.
• I don’t know where to begin.
• I’ve tried it before, it’s not possible.
• Poor timing for right now, I’ll address it later.

Why isn’t everyone who has expert potential on an expert-trek?
• Working within a position that cannot adequately benefit from an expert-level worker.
• Not a good fit for the position.
• Disbelief that the benefits outweigh the work required.
• Refusal to do additional work without additional pay.
• Wishful thinking – thinking that some outside force will come and align the stars, like winning the lottery or being offered a fantasy job.
• Fake barriers – “Management won’t consider my ideas because  ____________.”
• Bitterness towards company – “They’ll pay for their neglect through my lack of effort.”
• Distracted by employee-versus-employee internal competition (to be covered in module #9: Behavior Within Corporate Culture).
• Delusional in the thorough understanding of what constitutes mastery.

Let’s look deeper into this last bullet point:

Having a realistic understanding of what constitutes mastery is an important part of an expert-trek. If not approached realistically, an expert-trek may be a know-it-all trek. For traditional institution-guided experts this can be much easier, since the requirements are written in stone. The institution teaches, trains and mentors its own, and sets the bar for mastery. Because Unconventional Experts work within a world that is typically unstructured, complex, creativity-driven, strategy-dependent and project-oriented, the definition of mastery is extremely varied.

How do Unconventional Experts see mastery and understand the potential depth of their expert-trek? When the constraints of the work environment are removed and Unconventional Experts can govern themselves, the expert-trek becomes very clear. That is, to look at their activity within:

            • Hobbies
            • Arts
            • Crafts
            • DIY home improvements
            • Connoisseurship
            • Inventions
            • Disciplines

Observing Unconventional Experts at play

Involved hobbies attract extreme hobbyists. The vast majority of extreme hobbyists are either Unconventional Experts or potential Unconventional Experts. Visiting a hobby show is a great way to gain exposure to their characteristics and the mastery behind their expert-treks.

Here are some examples of hobbies that will host hobby shows throughout the year:

            • Customized and classic vehicles
            • Hunting and fishing
            • Guns
            • Photography
            • Garden plants and flowers
            • DIY home improvements
            • Gourmet Cooking
            • Wine and beer making
            • Arts and crafts
            • Textiles
            • Ceramics
            • Woodworking
            • Architecture
            • Musical instruments
            • Beekeeping
            • Nature conservation & preservation
            • Computers and technology
            • Collectibles

Being an outsider at one of these shows can be quite confusing. Conversations between Unconventional Experts can sound like a different language, as they exchange relevant information and express their opinions. They will use terminology and slang that has been adopted by their hobby. Within the exhibits, strange creations and elaborate products can be seen. Within the demonstrations, unique skills and disciplines are shown. Most everything seen at these shows had started with intellectual curiosity and had developed through a complex work-process. Mastery will be abundant and the expert-treks that find mastery will be apparent.

Work-process questions to ask an Unconventional Expert at a hobby show:

a) What got you interested in this hobby? (Foster curiosity)
b) What was the first part of the hobby that you worked on? (Initiate activity)
c) Where did you find information that was specific to the hobby? (Gain relevant information)
d) What possibilities did you see for yourself, thinking about this hobby? (Discover possibilities)
e) What game plans do you have within your hobby, that take you on one direction rather than another? (Strategize)
f) What was the largest project you took on? (Commit to a project)
g) What creations, modifications or inventions did you come up within your hobby? (Create ideas)
h) How did you develop your best ideas and how did that translate into a tangible activity, skill and/or finished body of work? (Realize ideas)
i) What were the results of your ideas, when compared to other bodies of work within the hobby? (Test ideas, find success or failure)
j) What were some of the failures or obstacles you experienced from the results of your ideas? (Test ideas, find success or failure)
k) What did you learn from failures or obstacles and how did you get around them? (Use failure as a platform for new and better ideas)
l) What parts of your hobby did you repeat, to duplicate successful activities? (Repeat part or all of the process)
m) What achievements did you have within the hobby, that make you the proudest? (Eventually, find achievement)
n) What is considered mastery within your hobby and how do you rank yourself in comparison? (Ultimately, gain some level of mastery)

Compare hobby attributes to the attributes of unconventional positions:

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

Within the jungle of Unconventional Experts, the most respected explorers,
are those who trek the deepest, to feed their intellectual curiosity.

Reverence for mastery
In the work environment, it is important that Unconventional Experts gain strong exposure to top performers who share a similar expert-trek. To be an Unconventional Expert, there must be a clear understanding of the degree of commitment required to reach some level of mastery. Over time, there should also be a deep respect and reverence for mastery and the Masters who achieve it. It is not unusual for an Unconventional Expert to credit exposure to a single master-level achievement as a point of inspiration for their own expert-trek. In an upcoming module, we will look at how mentor/protege relationships can influence the expert-trek.

Industry gatherings
Industry conferences, retreats, trade shows and networking events are perfect places for experts and aspiring experts to find each other and share experiences. They can share information regarding individual work-process, work-journey and expert-trek; to gain a better understanding of the work and commitment necessary to reach some level of mastery.

• Share a great idea; include the original idea and the progression of ideas that led to the final result.
• Give examples of failures and the overcoming of obstacles.
• Describe methodologies.
• Cover strategies.
• When explaining something complex, attempt to simplify as much as possible.

When a Master shares mastery, the degree of commitment should always be noticed and inspiring.

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Team sports
When hiring candidates that are fresh out of college, companies often look at participation in team sports, in addition to extracurricular activities and academic achievements. There are obvious candidate advantages to having a proven history of team work, when adequate work experience is not yet available. On the contrary, self-guided hobbies, arts, crafts, DIY home improvements, connoisseurship, inventions and disciplines are often ignored. Some recruiters, in fact, recommend that these set-guided activities be removed from resumes altogether. Within a Culture of Experts, it is not so much the type of activity to which someone commits, but the complexity of the individual work-process that determines the approach to the activity. Given the mental requirements necessary to master most sports, a top athlete might just be an Unconventional Expert. Although a candidate’s ability to cooperate within a team environment is not a topic of this program, it is an important attribute and should be appropriately explored within the hiring process.

The most interesting of conversations are those between Unconventional Experts, discussing their shared bodies of work.
A hobby, art, home improvement, connoisseurship, invention, discipline, entrepreneurial adventure or career project.

Right brain versus left brain

If you clench your right hand and left hand together, with fingers interwoven, and your left thumb is on top; you are a right brain dominate person. If your right thumb is on top, you are a left brain dominate person. There are many studies that compare the two, generalizing right brained dominate people as being more abstract and left brained dominate people being more concrete. Is it possible that right brained people are more apt to be Unconventional Experts and left brained people more apt to be traditional institution guide experts? There is limited scientific data to connect brain structure to individual work-process, but it is an interesting topic.

Identifying oneself with one’s job

When company layoffs left a marketing person unemployed, co-workers were quick to make sure he was okay. “I will be fine,” he said. “I don’t identify myself by my job.” Within a few weeks, he returned to work. However, he eventually moved to a much larger company, who hired him at a director level.

Unconventional Experts may or may not identify themselves by their jobs. It is important to note, however, that they do identify themselves by their work-process, work-journey, expert-trek and the projects that they commit to. If a worker has expert potential and they do not have a strong connection to their efforts, they are either a poor fit for their position or they are not being properly developed by the organization.

More on traditional institution-guided experts

The skills of a traditional institution-guided expert can be seen within one’s home. Take note the next time a master-level skilled trade worker comes to resolve an issue or work on renovations. Using a skilled trade worker as an example can be helpful, as their techniques become very apparent through the manipulation of physical objects. Plumbers have an occupation that is often under-appreciated. Their work is often referred to as a dirty job. Watching a plumber work on an impossible clog is nothing short of miraculous. It is not uncommon for them to work on a clog that is seven feet underground, with a six-inch pipe opening for their only access. Although, much of their work is repetitive and task oriented, their mastery over tools and techniques will shine with the most difficult challenges. Regardless of the mess, watching them work reveals their extreme focus and commitment. Traditional institution-guided experts share many of the qualities of Unconventional Experts.

Company marketing – which is the best kind of expert?

A small manufacturing company was falling way behind with their marketing efforts. They were falling short on almost all of the key marketing components when compared to their larger competitors. In an attempt to catch up, they hired a traditional institution-guided expert to lead their marketing department. Over several years, they completely overhauled their marketing presence, checked all of the boxes, and were finally playing in the same arena as the big boys. Unfortunately, these efforts barely nudged the pendulum for overall sales.

Marketing is a unique field when one takes a closer look at the types of experts it holds. No one will argue that traditional institution-guided expert marketing knowledge will provide foundational ideas, however, unconventional thinking is responsible for most of the great marketing feats. In the age of the internet, we see app-driven services that are so clever, the marketing is built into the idea.

Although there is a romance surrounding clever ideas, one must remember that clever can equate to risk. In the world of marketing, where hundreds of thousands of dollars can back a single idea, failure can turn into great financial loss. Ultimately, the best marketing experts are those who can create the kind of awareness that can generate a profit.

Corporate Culture Assessment Questions
Module #3 – Expert-Trek: The Journey to Mastery

5) Assuming candidates and employees are comfortable with it, does your company explore their individual work-process as it exists within the following free-time activities?

• Hobbies
• Arts
• Crafts
• DIY home improvements
• Connoisseurship
• Inventions
• Disciplines

6) Outside of traditional institution-guided expert positions and leadership roles, does your company develop fitting employees to an expert-level?

7) Does your company routinely expose expert-level employees to mastery within their areas of expertise, to establish a point of comparison?

See all of the module assessment questions in module #11 

Culture of Experts Interview Questions
Module #3 – Expert-Trek: The Journey to Mastery

7) What professional skill  holds your highest-level of expertise and how close do you consider yourself to master-level?
8) Within one of the categories below, what person skill holds your highest-level of expertise and how close do you consider yourself to master-level?

• Hobbies
• Arts
• Crafts
• DIY home improvements
• Connoisseurship
• Inventions
• Disciplines

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 #4: Process-Replication

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