5 Simple Steps to Becoming an Expert (with Bestselling Author Ramit Sethi and Stanford Professor BJ Fogg)

Updated: January 25, 2012

Michael Alexis

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This is a guest post by Michael Alexis of MichaelAlexis.com.

Why does the world need you to become an expert?

Change the world and make it a better place, and so the motivation for becoming an expert isn't just so you're an expert, it's so you can have an impact on the world; and so that's why I talk about becoming an expert. And the steps really aren't that complicated.

-- BJ Fogg

Ramit Sethi is an expert on personal finance.

He's got the credentials - that's for sure. Ramit's a New York Times best selling author and has been featured on CNN, CNBC, NPR, FOX, the Wall Street Journal and other major media outlets.

But what really matters is that every month Ramit helps thousands of people live a richer life via his personal finance blog I Will Teach You To Be Rich.

After all, what better way to prove you are an expert then get people results on a mass scale?

I've been researching Ramit to figure out his assent, and to understand how he became such a trusted expert in his field. In my searching, I found a recorded interview he did with his former Standford professor, BJ Fogg, about becoming an expert.

This post covers the key points of that conversation.

Step 1: The Beach Test

That really helped me get into the area. So I was an English Major, I was Pre-Med, I did all the chemistry, all the calculus, all the physics, but I wasn’t reading medical books on the beach.

-- BJ Fogg, on the genesis of expertise

Not surprisingly, the first step on your journey is picking an area of expertise. You may have heard of the book store test - where you imagine which section of books you naturally gravitate toward - as a way of determining your passion.

Well, let me introduce BJ Fogg's beach test. It's pretty simple: the last time you went to the beach with a book, what was it about? Or if you haven't been in awhile, which one would you bring? If the book wasn't related to your major in college or your current career - that's okay!

Fogg realized he was spending his vacations and free time reading psychology - and eventually went on to become the father of Captology (Computers as Persuasive Technologies).

So, if you are a...

  • water resource engineer that can't get enough of creative writing
  • economics major obsessed with shooting hoops
  • marketing student hooked on World of Warcraft
  • plumber who just loves linguistics
... then, yeah, you can change!

Action Step: Write down the subject(s) that you read about in your free time.

Step 2: Niche it down

Pick an area that's very, very focused and an area that you love. The more focused the area the better. In fact, I tell my students, in 20 hours of study, you should know more about that thing... that focus point than anybody else in the world. That's how focused it needs to be.

-- BJ Fogg, on getting focused.

So maybe you read (or do) yoga on the beach. That's your area of passion and so you are going to become THE go-to expert on yoga.


But you need to start somewhere. That's why Sethi and Fogg say to find a very specific focus. In their recording, Fogg shared this example for the future yoga guru:

  • you live in California, so you are the California yoga expert
  • you are involved with the Girl Scouts, so you are the California Girl Scouts yoga expert
  • there are many Asian-American girls in the group, so you are the California Asian-American Girl Scouts yoga expert
Focused, right? Of course you want the bigger market, i.e, yoga expert for girls - but you need to start somewhere. By beginning with a micro-focus, you can develop your expertise step by step and reach your goal.

Action Step: Take your answer for the beach test and start niching it down. Combine the passion with other area's of interest and find an intersection that appeals to you.

Step 3: Define your goals

You don't have to be an expert that goes on CNN every week, you can be an expert in your own company.

-- Ramit Sethi, on your goals as an expert

Since you hangout at Expert Enough, you know expertise is a pretty broad term. You don't have to do it to get rich and famous. You might become an expert in kayaking so you can take your kids on a weekend trip, or a bee-guru so you can harvest your own honey - whatever your goal: define it.

Action Step: Define your goal. Write it down. Stick to it.

Step 4: Learn everything there is to know

"The way you get to be an expert, of course, is to read everything that's ever been written or studied on it, and then you create new value. You do your own research. You learn things that nobody knows, and then you share it, sharing is vital.

-- Ramit Sethi, on the process of becoming an expert

When you're starting out with your micro-focus, you should be able to thoroughly read the subject in about twenty hours. As you expand to a wider focus, additional study is needed. Make it your goal to ready everything ever written on the topic - and as you progress, you will naturally develop expertise.

Here's an example. You may know that Ramit promotes three major products on his site: his book, Earn1K and a new course on finding your dream job. How do you become an expert on finding dream jobs?

Ramit spent years dissecting interviews with his college classmates, collecting data, buying all the existing books/movies/courses/whatever and truly understanding the market. That's the kind of dedication it takes to develop expertise on a subject.

Action Step: Make a list of resources related to your niche. Find them and start reading.

Step 5: Add your own value and share it

A step that people forget is they have to share the expertise with the world. I always believe that: what's the point of becoming an expert if you don't share it with other people.

-- Ramit Sethi, on a critical step on your path to becoming an expert

Of course becoming an expert doesn't mean you can just read everything in existence and start regurgitating it. To be a true expert you need to offer unique insight.

Add value to the conversation.

And you can do that by sharing your insight with others. Try one of these methods: start a blog, write a book, offer a seminar, volunteer at a summer camp, speak at Toastmasters - anything - just get your word out there.

Action Step: Start making your knowledge public.

Final Thoughts

I was at an affordable school, and I just wasn’t in any hurry, so seven years as an undergrad, two years as a Master’s, and then I did another Master’s in my PhD, so I did a lot of schooling, and slower than most. But ended up in an area that I was... in the kind of work I do, it’s fun and I’ll do it on vacation.

-- BJ Fogg, on his path to becoming an expert

Take your time. Developing expertise doesn't happen overnight and the world will wait. Give yourself a solid foundation and grow it step by step.

You can get the full interview and more from Ramit's site I Will Teach You to Be Rich. Learn more about BJ Fogg and what he calls "Behavior Design" over at his website.

Have you ever done the beach (or bookstore) test? What did it reveal to you?

Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

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