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The Way We Look at Expertise Is Changing. Here's Why.

As the world changes and technology becomes increasingly important, it is important that our knowledge and expertise shift too.

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Leadership has long been synonymous with expertise — and as the Cambridge Dictionary defines it, having expertise means that you come to the table with a high level of knowledge or skill. But this antiquated way of looking at expertise is shifting, and the change is one that professionals will have to understand and accept if they want themselves and their companies to continue delivering expected results.  

No longer in an analog world

One area that makes it easy to see why the traditional definition of expertise is outdated is technology. People who were born before my generation dealt mainly with analog tools and setups  they are people of the page. Those born after my generation, however, got exposed to the digital world from a young age. They are truly children of the screen. Today, the market is largely technology-driven. Change is constant and accelerating exponentially. It’s difficult just to keep up, let alone to get ahead. Because of the realities of modern technology, the degree I earned years ago isn’t completely relevant anymore and outlived its shelf-life long ago. In the same way, degrees and the ways in which we learn and earn them now will likely become dinosaurs in the not-so-distant future. 

Related: How to Use Your Expertise to Start a Consulting Business

With technology as a driver, education is becoming a very different animal

Education thus is the second area where the need to redefine expertise becomes clear. In the past, people planned to focus on just one or two subjects and to stay in the same sector, and even the same geographical location, for most of their careers. Specialization is great, but it also must be blended with an understanding of how the business model works and connects. Companies expected workers to be loyal. So if you had one degree or specialty, that was enough. You were well-trained and ready for the real world. The best employees are the most portable. We aren’t working for the “gold watch” and retirement any longer. I tell my children, “You aren’t looking for the job of a lifetime, rather a lifetime of jobs!” Incidentally, both are now entrepreneurs! 

Today, the world is much more dynamic, and it continues to become even more so. Because technology has broken community, state and country barriers, workers understand they can learn anything and work for anybody. They do not have the same sense of loyalty to their employers that they used to, and, at least in the United States, it’s no longer considered taboo if someone wants to pivot to a completely different career. Hypothesizing about what the future will hold, we’re training people for new jobs, some of which don’t even exist yet and aren’t fully conceptualized. 

All of this has made people rethink “old-fashioned” academics. There is a real question about the economic value of traditional degrees, with fewer young people going to college because of the ever-increasing expense. The Covid-19 pandemic has only poured fuel on this fiery debate. Facing lockdowns, layoffs and financial insecurity, people are thinking hard about what they truly value and want to learn. People are becoming unwilling to work for years in jobs they don’t enjoy and that don’t fulfill the deeper needs and causes they feel passionate about as human beings.

Related: How Entrepreneurs Can Solve the Higher Education Problem

In this environment, companies are trying to acknowledge the shifting sands of technology and ensure they have prepared workforces. According to the World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report, half of all employees will need reskilling by 2025 as the adoption of technology increases. Technology use, monitoring and control, and technology design and programming, also make the list of the top 10 in-demand skills. And the overwhelming majority (94%) of business leaders now expect employees to pick up new skills on the job. That’s up from 65% just three years ago in 2018. 

Continuing education within the digital space is very clearly not optional. Educators now recognize that in order to keep academic facilities profitable and open, they must change the educational experience to attract learners and keep them employed. The College 2030 report from Barnes & Noble Education asserts that it’s now a priority for colleges to create a more seamless, flexible and customized experience. Michael Huseby, BNED chief executive officer and chairman, says that “Within the next 10 years, we will see a transformation of the student experience  from admissions through graduation  and a shift towards lifetime .”

Related: Expertise Is Not Enough. Here's How to Become a Successful Business Coach.

Expertise is a constant work in progress

Even though earning credentials gives us a foundation to build upon, Charles Darwin’s truth largely rings true: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” Driven by technology, we are accepting that a person is no longer ever “finished” with learning and must continue to evolve to maintain his or her “expert” status. 

So, when you think about your qualifications or level, get rid of the notion of perfectionism and remember that we’re all a work in progress. Stay willing to change and be proactive about it. If you do that and also encourage others to keep adapting in a similar and forgiving way, then many of the issues created by traditional corporate and social siloing and hierarchy can dissolve, and everyone can move forward together in real community.

Donna Peeples

Written By

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Donna Peeples is an accomplished senior executive with verifiable results, leading customer-focused change initiatives in a variety of industries known for developing markets, growing startups and inspiring global change.