How to Be an Expert Without Being One

The most valuable conversations are with people who know some about what I do, but aren’t experts.

Every step of the way with Praxis, I call my brother Levi when I hit a bump in the road.  He knows me, he knows business, and he knows the general idea of Praxis.  But he’s not an expert on apprenticeships, marketing to young people, building a curriculum, coaching, or really any of the components of our industry and activities.

Still, I get the best advice from him.  It’s because he asks good questions.  The right questions.  The ones that matter.

Domain expertise and technical problems are fairly easy to solve.  There are people and resources to solve them.  The real value comes when what you think is a technical problem turns out to be a philosophical one.  A problem of vision, business model, talent, market, or management style.

A person with domain expertise will help you solve your technical problem.  Sometimes that only makes the root problems worse.

A person without domain expertise, but with genuine interest in you and your project, will ask good, penetrating questions.  Why do you want to do this?  Who does it help?  How does it help them?  How much does it cost?  Compared to what?  When will you do it?  Is it what you want to be doing most?  Is it the most pressing problem?  Does it line up with your core vision?  What is your vision?  Does it need to change?  What’s the elevator pitch?

Damn.

Those questions kick your ass.  They force you to clarify your thoughts and feelings.  They strain knowledge and direction from a semi-conscious soup and ladle it into obvious, actionable buckets.

The questions themselves tease out the answers you sought, or reveal you were asking the wrong question altogether.

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