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You Don’t Have to Be an Expert to Become an Expert

Years ago, I started a job that transformed into something very different in less than a year. After getting my degree in Political Science I moved to DC to use it — because where else does one go when they study politics?

After just a couple of months in politics I decided being directly involved wasn’t for me, so I took a job building town hall meetings for congressional members with topics ranging from health care to economic development. I was using my degree and background from school, but then the company shifted directions to building a large entrepreneurship campaign on a global scale.

It fell to me to build the networks of entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship facilitators in as many countries as possible. I was not knowledgeable in global relations and knew very little about entrepreneurship. I can speak only one language; hadn’t done a whole lot of international travel at the time; and really only took one macroeconomics class in my life. As some would put it, I was thrown in the deep end and had to learn how to swim quickly. What I learned was that you can become an expert in any field — you just have to start looking and learning.

Image: Skill with young woman using her laptop in a chair

With current technology, the amount of content and information available for free is nearly limitless. Between all the content aggregators, MOOCs (massively open online courses) and mainstream sites that have sections for various topics, there are myriad places to begin diving into the world you are trying to learn about. It can be overwhelming at first, but if you start with one branch it will lead to many others and help you build a huge knowledge base. Here are my suggestions:

  1. The easiest place to start is with a handful of well-known people in the field you are interested in. By looking to see what they read and who they follow on Twitter, you can start to determine how they get their information. If you are not sure who the well-known people are in your area of interest, you can research events and conferences to see who is speaking. The bigger the conference, the more likely the speakers will be the super-influencers.
  2. From there you can check one of the many aggregators for other prominent content places. Personally I use Feedly and Prismatic. Feedly has a number of general topics where they have already collected many of the major sources for you. The site will then display all the articles posted from those sites. The other great option is Prismatic. Similar to Feedly, it has suggestions for a person based on topic. You can also follow other people so that you can see what they are reading. Additionally, Prismatic will learn what you are reading and continue to give you more of that type of content. After a little learning, the site will continue to provide you with all the knowledge you need.
  3. Checking the mainstream sites for sections generally on the topic you want to learn about is also a great base for more information. Often a few articles will reference other sites or other people that may be influential or have more sources of interest.
  4. Finally, the best place to learn about a certain topic or to learn more about what other people are reading is to get out and listen to people. Find the events in your city that are on the topic, go to happy hours, seminars, conferences, and meet ups and just listen. Listen carefully to the organizations that are mentioned, as well as the press and people that they reference. Listening and learning is always the best policy.

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