I’m doing a deep dive into the research on expertise (or, maybe more accurately, continuing to dive into that research — it’s been something I’ve been watching for several years now), and one conclusion I’m coming to is that “expert” as a noun is not actually that useful.
My biggest concern is that calling people experts instead of talking about their expertise — the knowledge and skills and whatnot that help them get better results in their domain than others do (though stay tuned for a future blog post about what-expertise-is) — reinforces an air of mystery and of otherness. Talking about “experts” and “non-experts” implies that there’s something intrinsically different about experts. It can demotivate people who are learning, and it can encourage identified experts to think more grandly about themselves than they ought.
In every domain, there’s a continuum of expertise. Remembering that there’s always a path to becoming more expert (as opposed to an expert) is a big part of actually getting on and following that path.
There’s another concern, as well, and that’s that “expert” as an identifier — as in, she’s an expert [whatever] — is a social designation, not one that necessarily tracks any particular set of expertise. We’ve all encountered self-proclaimed (or even other-proclaimed) “experts” who couldn’t by any reasonable definition claim the title. Better, then, to just drop the title entirely and focus on the work they do instead of what they claim to be.
So, let’s drop “expert” as a noun from our vocabulary, and speak more precisely. Let’s get past this dichotomy of “experts” and “the rest of us,” and recognize that any of us can develop expertise and become more expert in our fields.