The 3 Book Rule to Become An Expert

I remember the first time I heard a white person speak Chinese.

It was amazing.  I thought to myself, how was this 45 year old man speaking so fluently. It was a weird mixture of awe, admiration and jealousy.

The man was my coworker and had been living in Taiwan for quite some time. He could communicate with any of my coworkers with ease, even to the point of making them laugh.

I wanted to be like him, just much younger.

So I started studying and about a year later I realized a very important fact – his Chinese was absolutely terrible.

His pronunciation was horrendous, his grammar basically non-existent and he sounded like a five-year old child when he described anything.

Needless to say, my Chinese level quickly surpassed his. Despite this, I’ll never forget that initial feeling of standing there in total awe of his ability.  I remember doubting my own language aptitude, thinking there was NO possible way I would be able to do the same.  

To me he was an expert. I would have taken any advice he had to give.

I would have paid him to teach me.

And years later I reflect on this and realized the thin line that you need to cross in order to become an “expert” isn’t actually that challenging. The fact is that there is a big misconception about what it takes to reach that expert level. It’s often a lot less than what you think.

Take our fictional character – Lazy Larry.

Larry loves web design. He loves it so much that he spends 20 minutes every day reading about it and setting up a few simple websites himself.  He does this for only a few months and gains a decent level of proficiency.

Is Larry an expert?

Let’s use some incredibly rough statistics that aren’t actually based on any real numbers (there is no way I could find an accurate number). Let’s assume that only 1% of the US population could setup a website with the same proficiency as Larry. That would leave the other 312,000,000 people (based of 318.9 million total) with the impression of Larry as an expert.

Now you might be thinking, ya… but that other 1% might be professional programmers or designers and surely they would do a way better job than Larry who only spends 20 minutes a day setting up websites from his mom’s basement.

If so, you’re missing the point. The point wasn’t that 1%, it’s the 99%.

To most people Larry is an expert, just as much as I thought my coworker was a Chinese-speaking Mandarin-joke telling master of charm and wit, they’ve both learned enough to be considered an expert by the 99%.

The point is reaching a skill level that makes you an expert for the average person, NOT for those people who are already highly-experienced in that given area.  We tend to think that we need to reach the highest pinnacle of ability and knowledge before we can actually start working in the field.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. The average customer wants a general level expert, they don’t the need someone in the upper 20% of a given trade or speciality.  

Think about a potential customer that might buy a website from Larry. They might want a business website, a simple Ecommerce site or help with a personal blog. These are the vast majority of customers wanting web design, I’d say nearly 80%.  At the high-end we have the medium to large businesses, online vendors and niche-specific websites with huge amounts of content that requires much more specialized skills.

But, that is only 20% of the demand. The other 80% could easily be done by guys like Larry.

scale of what it actually takes to be an expert

The point of all of this is to rethink what you CAN do.  You might not see yourself as someone who can start a new job or learn a new skill, but the plain truth is you can.  The road to becoming an expert that can actually get paid generously might seem so far away that it may as well be a dream. Instead, it’s only usually a few months away.

Let me repeat.

The road to becoming an expert is much closer than you think. It requires a simple paradigm shift – being able to create services or a business that you can actually get paid for involves realizing that the massive majority of the market only needs simple answers which can be easily learned and monetized. Most people don’t need complicated skills or solutions.

Stop thinking that being an expert requires a PhD, a degree, 5 years of minimum experience or permission from someone else.

Ahhh….. Permission.

We are all taught to seek permission in order to believe we can do something.  When we’re young we need permission to go to the bathroom, when we get older we need permission to take a sick day or an afternoon off.  We seek permission in the form of job experience, references, degrees and fancy letters after your name.  They confer status, “ability” and permission to even try.

You don’t need permission to learn anything new.

You don’t need it to become an expert in almost any field and you certainly don’t need it to find your first customer.  So unless you’re becoming a doctor, a lawyer or something else that could get you into legal trouble, there isn’t much stopping you from becoming an expert, other than just investing your time.

Ok enough talk about being an expert.  Let’s talk about how you can do it.

Stop consuming and start doing.

!!!Warning information overload!!!

This is what my brain is saying every time I Google anything. Unless I’m careful with what I’m searching for I usually leave feeling more confused, more excited or insecure of what I don’t know.  My problem is that I consume way too much information.

Instead, I focus on doing. One of the most powerful phrases I’ve ever heard is “clarity through action not thought”.

For an overly-analytical person like myself this statement is worth its weight in proverbial gold. Instead of reading about everything and anything, do it.

Want to learn something? Stop planning it. Stop waiting for permission to do it.

A lot of people want to write a book. Just start now.  Your first book will be terrible anyway. Doesn’t matter what the goal is, the point is engaging in action will bring you closer to that expert level MUCH faster than just planning and thinking.

Stop waiting for permission to start something new. There will never be a right time.

Invest Time Daily

I talked about this in the last article. The idea of compounding time through small habits.

Like the first idea, you’ll have to actually engage in doing the action repeatedly on a steady schedule to get the results you want. When you first start a new habit remember that it won’t feel good.  As my personal rule of thumb, any new habit that I start which immediately feels great makes me pretty skeptical. It’s important to remember:

Habits generally follow through three stages.

  • Hating it.
  • Not hating it as much.
  • Liking it a lot.

Just knowing that starting something that can benefit your life or change it completely isn’t supposed to start off easy. If it were easy everyone would be doing it. What most people don’t get is that after that initial hump period of hating something you usually start enjoying it much more quickly.

The Three Book Rule

One of my favorite rules of being an expert is the three book rule. If you were to read three books about a topic you would be an expert compared to 99% of the population.  That’s all it takes. You don’t need a degree or an expensive certification. You just need to read three books.

How long does it take to read three books?

Maybe 3-4 months depending on the size. The average person can’t even focus his or her attention long enough to read one book let alone 3. Simply reading three books launches you into the expert stratosphere about any topic relative to the average person’s knowledge.

One More Thing

I listen to a lot of interviews. There is something inspiring about hearing other people’s stories. Sometimes I feel like I’m searching for similarities in my own professional life or just secret tips and tricks.

Instead what I often come across is the story of the accidental expert.

The man or woman who had a hobby or interest and one fateful day was approached by a chance encounter to expand on it.

It might have been a favor from a friend, a side job, a project, or perhaps simply just a brave step forward. The opportunity isn’t as important as what it represents – a mindshift.

Entrepreneur after entrepreneur can remember a time when they realized “wow I can actually do this”, that feeling that it’s actually possible to make money from their hobby and help others represents the fundamental mindshift needed to realize that you’re already an expert or …. very close to becoming one.

You don’t need anyone else’s permission.