What is Expertise?

According to Wikipedia, an expert, more generally, is a person with extensive knowledge or ability based on research, experience, or occupation and in a particular area of study.  For me an expert is someone that intuitively knows the right answers and is able to draw conclusions about future events and to predict their outcome. Experts have gained intense experience through prolonged practice and education in a particular field. Let’s analyze how one becomes an expert.

In Japan, there is a concept that describes the stages of learning to gain mastery in a domain.  It is called shuhariShuhari is roughly translated is to Learn, Detach, and Transcend. Shuhari describes how skill is acquired.

  • In the “Shu” stage you learn the fundamental techniques – the traditional wisdom.
  • In the “Ha” stage you start looking into similar areas and techniques, and collect new methodologies and tools.
  • And in the “Ri” stage (mastery) you mix techniques to do or make the best solution.


To develop personal competence and gain wisdom, you will need to learn many techniques. You will have to leave your comfort zone and take risks to gain new personal experience. At the same time, you need to ensure quality, which means not just getting things done but also getting it right, even if it is more painful. When you combine this with analytical reflection about what works in a situation and what might work better next time, you gain more insight.


Becoming an Expert

Level 1 Shu Follow and learn Learn a technique
Level 2 Ha Break away Collect related techniques
Level 3 Ri Transcend Bland techniques


With the concept of Shuhari in mind, you can reflect on the best technology, process or methodology. How many times have people debated about which of these solutions is the best?

  • .Net, or Java?
  • iOS, or Android?
  • Windows, or Linux?
  • Scrum, or RUP?

People who just learned a tool and are trying to master that tool are often quite loyal; they try to solve everything with that tool. If you have only a hammer, your perception will be limited to everything being a nail. To become an expert, you need some time to leave the comfort zone and use a tool like you have not been used. Therefore expertise begins with curiosity, humility and willingness to learn something new.