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A time I felt embarassed and the lesson I learned on domain of expertise

On Lawrence He

A year and a half ago I was invited to sit at a workshop and be a guest expert at a conference. The event was Hardware Con, and because I had just been invited briefly before, and have never been a “guest expert”, I had no idea what to expect. So, because I had no idea what to expect, I didn’t think much of it until I got there. While sitting in the room 5 minutes before our workshop session started a small feeling of anxiety began to creep into me.

Thoughts popped up like: What kind of answers would I give that would even be helpful to these guys? Am I gonna tell them what camera to buy or what the difference between a grip and a gaffer? Would it benefit them for me to give feedback on the videos they’ve made?

Nothing out of the ordinary happened. They didn’t ask me questions that we’re related purely to the technical aspects of video production as I had initially worried about, but instead asked me to give feedback on some video ideas or to give feedback on their video strategy. This is all good and logical enough, but for some reason I felt like the advice I could in this domain wasn’t enough and wanted to give higher level advice, so I asked them about their overall marketing and what their funnel looked like. This was 2014, mind you, and internet marketing was still somewhat an obscure thing to learn, and because I was so interested in it at the time (still am) I felt like there was a lot I could give input on.

As so, when I transitioned the conversation to talking about internet marketing, things started to go south. People started getting uninterested and confused. One person even felt provoked by his skepticism and and asked, “Wait, what expert are you a field of again?"

“Video production"

How to be Competent

On Tynan

As I've written before, I think that one of the most important skills one can have is basic competence. It doesn't sound as appealing as programming, writing, or engineering, but it's a rarer skill, and thus more valuable.

Most skills are clearly defined and can be easily taught, which makes them easy to commoditize. Competence, like social skills, is something that's less easy to define and teach. It's more of a personal exploration.

I define competence at the ability to get an undefined task done in an efficient manner. The skills that go into that are primarily time management and ability to learn. Someone who is very competent can take a random task in a field in which he's not an expert, figure out how to get it done, and then complete it. He won't be able to do it as well or as quickly as an expert, but that's not the point. The point is to not be totally helpless when working outside of your comfort zone.

So what does it take to be competent?

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