Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Becoming an Expert on Any Topic

Like most people, I find that I develop new interests every year.  Topics that I am currently exploring or have explored in the past include: design, programming, product management, investing, finance, venture capital, new languages, entrepreneurship, healthcare, startups, web development, photography, painting, cooking, traveling, wine tasting, running marathons, financial modeling, user experience, nutrition, and quantified self.  Through the process of exploring these new interests, I have come up with a series of steps and resources that I use to completely immerse myself in a new topic in order to understand everything I can about it as quickly as possible.

I know it may seem silly, but I actually still start out learning about a new topic the old fashioned way - by checking out every relevant book I can get a hold of from the library. A quick Google search often helps me narrow down the best books to check out on a topic and I start placing holds on each of the top books. I also search on Hulu and Netflix for any relevant documentaries because these are often just as informative as books and quicker to get through. I then subscribe to new blogs and podcasts (which are great for commutes to work) on the topic and begin following relevant questions on Q&A sites like Quora and Stack Exchange. These often help me get a sense of the main companies and thought leaders in the space and then I begin to follow those people and companies on social media sites including Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and AngelList.  I’ve also found that several of the free online education resources like Coursera and iTunesU have great courses on new areas that I’ve been trying to learn more about. The final step I take is to put myself out there and talk to people in the industry who already have a significant amount of experience in the topic I’m interested in. I try to set up a few informational interviews through my network, LinkedIn and websites like OHours and I make sure to keep a look out for local conferences, events or Meetup groups on the new topics.

It's pretty amazing how with all the technology and resources that we have available today, I can go from being a complete beginner to an almost expert in just about any topic I’m interested in. However, I think the one downside to all this information overload and free educational resources is that with the opportunity to learn about so many different topics, it becomes more difficult to become an expert in any single subject because I keep discovering more and more areas that I’m interested in learning more about. Next thing I need help learning – how to focus!

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