I started reading The Fifth Discipline last week.  The author identifies “component technologies” required to become a learning organization.  They are systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, shared vision, and team learning.  I’m reading a first edition released in 1990 so some of the examples seem outdated.  Additionally, what may have seemed advanced 20 years ago is commonplace today.  Despite the effect of time there are some insights that are worth consideration.

I want to address the idea of developing expertise, what the author refers to as personal mastery.  Everybody has interests that extend beyond their daily work responsibilities.  As a learning professional I am responsible for developing learning interventions (frequently referred to as training) to address performance gaps in my organization.  In any given week I might have 2-3 short-term projects to complete and several larger scope projects.  My training and experience enables me to apply a systematic approach to these projects that will ensure we achieve the desired result.

Although I am always staying current on learning trends, I am also interested in user-centered software design.  This is frequently referred to as usability.  User centered design includes end users in the design process to ensure the final product meets their needs.  I am by no means a usability expert.  However, in my organization I might have more expertise than anyone else.  For that reason, I add value above and beyond my regular duties.  However, I can only add value if people know about my expertise.

How can you use your interests to add value to your organization?  First, you must invest in your interest area.  To be viewed as an expert, you must strive to be an expert.  What do you read?  What web sites do you visit?  Who are the significant thought leaders in your interest area?  You don’t have to have all the answers.  Sometimes it is enough to be able to provide resources to others.  One definition of expertise is knowing more than the person asking the question.

The second way to become an expert is to refine your skills.  Look for opportunities to apply what you know.  It is not enough to be well-read.  If you are going to add value you must be able to apply your skills.  This does not mean you have to be assigned a project.  That won’t always be possible.  However, in any given week you will have opportunities to improve your skill set.  Take advantage of them.

Finally, share you expertise.  Get the word out through any channel at your disposal.  One of the purposes of this blog is to share perspectives I have regarding workplace performance.  I include the URL at the bottom of my email messages to encourage others to read and join the conversation.  The more I people read the more they know about me and my expertise.  As the site develops I plan to add links to other sites I visit to stay current on my regular job duties and other areas of interest.  This will help people be more efficient at finding answers since they won’t have to ask me directly to get answers.

I just listened to a Harvard Business Review interview with Alexandra Samuel.  She is an expert on the use of social media. You can listen to it here.  If you are interested in using social media to share your expertise she provides excellent insights on selecting the proper social media outlet for you message.  She also notes that social media is best at connecting people, as opposed to establishing a corporate identity.  She also notes that the effective use of social media requires a person to be authentic and transparent.  For me that requires me to share what I know and acknowledge what I don’t know, which is a lot.  It is important for me to accept input from others.  I have not mastered the art of social networking but through this blog I hope to learn as much as I help others learn.

Please share your thoughts on expertise and how you develop yours.