The difference between knowledge and expertise

This month I have a guest post from contributor Danielle Shaw. Danielle has been working with me over the last few weeks in a Marketing and Communication Executive role and kindly wrote this blog post on knowing the difference between knowledge and expertise.

 By Danielle Shaw

The difference between expertise and knowledge is slim in terms of the dictionary, and vast in terms of service. While knowledge is described as information acquired through experience or education, expertise implies being a leader in a field through having a level of skill that goes beyond just knowing things.

It’s origin (Oxford English Dictionary) is from the Latin ‘expertus’, meaning  ‘try’ or ‘test’. In other words; expertise involves a strong element of practical application. Like an electrician wiring up a new house or a scientist trying to discover new things, or a lawyer, applying knowledge of statutes to a particular case.

In business, who do you think customers trust more? Somebody who is knowledgeable, or somebody who has expertise?

Plumbers, for example are experts in their field. Your uncle’s friend’s brother might have watched a lot of YouTube videos and exercised his ‘Google-fu’ skills; maybe he even managed to fix the leak in his shower. Even in light of all of that, would you really trust him to start rifling around under your sink? If the answer is ‘yes’, I can’t help you. If the answer is, ‘God no, Ian isn’t getting anywhere near my blocked cistern’ then good; keep reading.

Expertise implies specific and encompassing knowledge of a particular subject, the application of which also relies on a variety of skills. That’s the important distinction to make. Experts in their field can approach a problem with a set of skills that are not only applicable, but interchangeable. If their approach doesn’t work at first, they look at it differently; they think laterally.

Generally, you hire an expert to do something specific, usually something you can’t do yourself to the proper degree – like design your website (thanks STCS). There are tools out there that allow you to make a website yourself, but unless you have some sort of unprecedented natural coding skill, your effort won’t ever compare with that of a true expert.

I say ‘true expert’ because there are many, many people out there who will wave their knowledge around and call themselves ‘experts’ when they aren’t. You have to be particularly careful in identifying the people and businesses you can trust to actually deliver on what you want. Returning to the web designer example; there are a number of ways you can do this.

1. Look them up online. A lot of the time website owners will post testimonials themselves, but make sure you check that they are legitimate. Beyond that, people will often also write independent reviews. Make sure you check for those too, because a business isn’t going to display any negative reviews.

2. Find examples of their work. Take a look at the people or companies they have worked with and see what you think of their work and whether you really want to invest money in their services.

3. Make sure you can communicate. It doesn’t matter how skilled somebody might be if you can’t communicate your needs, have them listen and vice versa. So meet with them, talk about your specific needs and listen carefully to what they say. Does their approach fit with what you need? Can they adapt sufficiently to your situation? Not sure? Then they haven’t tried hard enough to win your business. Move on …

You probably will get caught out at least once by somebody who talks a big game but can’t deliver. You live and learn and hopefully you’ll be able to find an actual expert to do the thing you wanted doing in the first place.

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