99.9% of People Are Smarter Than You

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Quick Takes:

  • There are experts in every field
  • No matter where you are in your journey, there is someone ahead of you
  • Learn vicariously about your passion through the crowdsourced knowledge of existing experts
  • Accelerate your success and become an expert in your passion by admitting people are smarter

Lets face it, we aren’t experts, in almost anything we do. Even if some of us excel at certain things, there’s always someone better, and therefore, someone more knowledgable. Yet a lot of us like to think we’re an expert - maybe even the expert.

There’s something sexy about being an expert. Call it the human condition,  but there’s an innate desire for us to feel needed, and for a lot of us, expertise is the way we fill that need. However, most of our “expertise” isn’t expertise at all. More knowledge than  average, sure, but that doesn’t do much to make an expert.

There’s always someone smarter, in almost every possible situation. Very few can actually say that they’re the best in their field. In fact, even those who can say that they’re the best don’t remain so for long. Someone’s always coming up to unseat the best, or in the case of this article, the “expert,” meaning that even experts can learn from other experts. Anyone can learn from anyone; It’s a cycle, never-ending, just like the world we live in.

However, there are experts out there, people we can learn from, but they might not be you or me. And while we might not be experts, we all want something. We all want to excel in a field or at a passion or in the attainment of a goal, and it’s possible to learn vicariously through other people at any point in our journey. 

So, then, if almost none of us our experts, and we can all learn from something, and we all want to be good - maybe even the best - at something, why is it that almost no one actually seeks out these experts?

Experts are People Too

First, let’s deconstruct what it means to be an expert. You’ve heard  the quotes and saying, and many people boil down an expert to a person who knows more on a particular topic than a particular audience. That audience can be a jury or group of broadcast listeners, but if someone knows more than the relevant audience, they're an expert.

Which means that experts aren’t omnipotent. In fact, they might not know much more than your neighbor, yet we treat experts like they’ve reached some unattainable echelon. Surely they have more of what it takes than me, we always say to ourselves.

But here's the rub: they don’t. An expert didn’t become one through divine will or through the use of some superpower. Expert, barring certain high performance athletes who have genetic prerequisites, don't have a larger capacity for greatness than anyone else. But, we continue to treat experts as idols and celebrities like they've done something we could never do.

Instead, think of experts as people who have put in the work, and have seen that work pay off. Because, as we all know, hard work and perseverance, when given the necessary amount of time, will yield something great. So, these experts, rather than having superpowers, have a work ethic that’s given them a combination of reference experiences and good timing, which blend together to achieve success. And if a person’s successful, you better believe they’ll be perceived as an expert in the field in which they’ve found success.

It would be cliche to talk about the overnight success 30 years in the making, but for almost every expert, that’s the essence of what happened. We see the success, sure, and tout the person’s intelligence because, well, surely they’re smarter than us for achieving success, and there ya go, an expert is born. But what we don’t take into account is the years of sweat equity and failures and learnings from those failures that got them to their point of success.

If you zoomed out from the point of success and anointment of “expertise,” and instead looked at the entire journey, from the inception of a passion to the attainment of the goal, you’ll see a person not much different from you or me. The only difference, if there is one, is that the successful expert made a commitment to become great, and then put in the subsequent work.

Take musicians for example. When we see a famous musician on stage, or hear about a multi-million dollar record deal, it’s hard to fathom that we have the ability to do the same thing. Instead, we think of these musicians as superior experts in some form or fashion. However, we never look at the backstory.

Even Calvin Harris is a Person

Let’s deconstruct Calvin Harris’s rise to fame. Harris, for those who don’t know, is probably the biggest DJ in the world, and I’m sure you all know who he is, making this sentence completely unnecessary. Anyway, Harris began making music in his room at the age of 15 and released his first two singles under a small label in 2002 at the age of 18. Performing under the stage name “Stouffer,” he took his mild success as a sign to move to London to pursue music more seriously.

Over the next few years, Harris toiled to have his music released, with only one song hitting the London airwaves. Broke and jobless, he moved back to his parents home in Scotland and began posting solo recordings to his Myspace page (yes, guys and gals, Myspace). His continued writing and releasing songs and his online presence slowly increased the demand for his music, and in 2006, he finally signed his first major record deal.

The album was released in 2007, and Harris was still at the beginning of his journey. Success slowly grew, and he continued to put in consistent effort. He released another album in 2009 and dropped a slew of singles around that time. His popularity and fame began to tip the scale, and in 2011 he caught his “big break” with the release of the song Feel So Close, which reached number two on the UK singles chart and broke into the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S.

From there? Oh, just collaborations with Rihanna and dates with Taylor Swift, to name a few. Calvin Harris had “made it.” If you look at the time period from 2011 to now, it would seem  that he possesses some musical talent that we’ll never have, and he may. But, if we look at his trajectory from 2002 to present, it makes a lot more sense that it was in fact his work ethic and perseverance that got him to where he is today, and not musical talent alone.

So what, who cares? Well, if you don’t, you should, because this means that you can become an expert at anything you want, if you put in the necessary work and continue to persevere. The only difference between you and Calvin Harris is that he kept working hard and putting himself out there, accumulating the necessary reference experiences to navigate the music environment and find success.

However, even Calvin Harris himself had mentors, and even he sought experts to help him in his own journey to musical expertise.

There’s No Such Thing as a Dumb Question 

So, it’s been established that experts aren’t omnipotent, and that anyone can become an expert with the proper work ethic and perseverance, but, experts do exist. It doesn’t matter if someone is looking to become the next great American author, the next Calvin Harris or even the next Steve Jobs - there are experts in every field.

There’s always someone doing it better than you, or at least someone who’s done it before you, meaning that they have knowledge you don’t. If your ultimate goal is to become an expert in your field or passion, wouldn’t it make sense to tap into that knowledge?

The fact of the matter is that 99.9% of people are smarter than you in at least one field of study, if not more. One person might be a better entrepreneur, another person might be a more dedicated gym rat, and someone else might be a better artist. No, one person isn’t normally better at 99.9% of everything, but the aggregation of experts in the world combine to be better than us at 99.9% of, well, anything.

How great is that? If your passion is strong enough, and you have the necessary work ethic, you can accelerate your expertise by tapping into this well of knowledge and reference experiences. By connecting with experts in the field of your desire, it’s possible to accelerate your success. Learning can happen vicariously through interactions with these experts, helping us avoid pitfalls, open doors, and accumulate the necessary skills.

There might not be one way to become an expert in your passion or field, but there is definitely a blue print. Life is full of formulas, and whether you’re trying to start the next Google or paint the next modern masterpiece, there’s a formula to it. Now, that’s not to trivialize the creative process, but these experts became successful by following a defined path, even if that path was only defined in retrospect. Still, wouldn’t it make sense to speak with these experts and follow a similar path?

Deconstruct what makes these high performers successful, and deconstruct what makes certain failures fail, and then design your path to your own expertise accordingly. There’s a wealth of knowledge out there, and it’s time we started taking advantage of it. 

I’ve made a commitment to become a traditionally published author. There, I said it, no going back. I have a self-published book, but it’s high time I let publishers take an 80% cut so I can tell people I’m a legitimate author!

The sad thing, however, is that I don’t know the first thing about the book publishing industry, and have never even met a literary agent. Sure, I’ve studied business for years, and have mentors who help me grow myself and my company, but I couldn’t tell you the first thing about the publishing world.

Crap, I’m not an expert, I might have thought to myself. How can I be the next Stephen King if I can’t even hand-off a manuscript? Well, thankfully we’ve already uncovered the fact that everything is connected and that life is balanced, and instead of giving up before I started, I took a different approach.

Drawing on my knowledge and skills in business, I began curating a “sales list” of literary agents and publishers who might be able to provide me with insight. Setting up a pipeline eerily similar to the sales pipeline of my company (who woulda thought??), I began reaching out to these literary contacts one at a time, using a template email that assured them I wasn’t selling anything but was instead searching for information.

And boy did I learn! I was rejected by most (surprise surprise), brushed off by some, and thankfully, accepted by a few. I called these few with a string of questions and treated it like a bonafide business call. The result was a massive data dump, thank you very much.

I’m not any closer to finishing the next great American novel (kidding), but you better believe I know how to get the manuscript read once it’s ready. Oh, and who woulda guessed it, but I now have relationships and direct lines of communication to literary agents and publishers. I might not have “sold” them anything over the phone, but I definitely convinced them I was marketable, and low and behold, there’s interest in a finished product. Ha! Who’s selling who, now?

Still a lot of hard work ahead, and if my past is any indication, a lot of failure and perseverance, too. But, thanks to the fact that I know I can become an expert, and that I reached out to current experts, I’m well on my way to success in my passion. So, whatever goal you’re pursuing right now, stop, go to Linkedin, find someone in that field who’s smarter than you, and reach out. Accelerate your success. 

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