Why Experts Never Stop Learning

Why Experts Never Stop Learning

Several years ago, we conducted a study analyzing the knowledge of professionals with 15 years or more of experience to those with less than a year of experience. One of the questions we asked was this: “On a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 representing no knowledge at all and 10 being all there is to know about your field, where would you rate your level of knowledge?”

Now for this discussion, if I asked you that question, how would you answer? What would be your rating? Keep that number in mind as I tell you what our research participants told us.

The experienced professionals reported their knowledge, on average, at 4.5. In other words, they saw themselves knowing about half of everything there was to know about their field. The novices reported their knowledge at the 8.5 level. They, in sharp contrast to their experienced colleagues, believed they pretty much knew everything there was to know about their field—and this was all with less than one year of experience! I found the results shocking—until I gave it some thought, and then it made sense for several reasons.

First, experts make it a point to always be learning. That is how they became experts in the first place. They are insatiable learners when it comes to their areas of expertise. And as long as they maintain this ‘always ready to learn’ perspective, they will remain at the forefront of their field.

Second, because of their extensive knowledge and experience, experts know what they don’t know. Novices don’t know enough to know how much they don’t know. Perhaps in time these novices will begin discovering the gaps in their knowledge. Until then, they will remain comfortable knowing just what they need to know to minimally get their job done.

Third, experts’ knowledge is specific to their area of expertise. In other words, when one refers to an ‘expert’s knowledge’, that knowledge is largely confined to a single field of specialty. Because you may be an expert in sales does not mean you will be expert in manufacturing or management. Expertise favors the specialist and specialized skills, developed over many years of extensive training and deliberate practice.

Finally, when you believe that you pretty much know all there is to know about your field, how motivated are you to attend conferences, participate in workshops, listen to colleagues, or read? Not very. But, if you believe you only know a percentage of all there is to know in your field and you aspire to a top performer, your motivation to learn skyrockets.

Despite a common misconception, experts do not see themselves as ‘all knowing’ individuals. They, therefore, continue to learn, regardless of any accomplishments or recognitions they have achieved. Because they know that what got them where they are today will not necessarily keep or advance them tomorrow. It was, after all, by learning all they could, whenever they could that helped make them expert in the first place.

Comments are closed.