In every area of interest out there, there is a distinction between the type of performer you are. Unless you are bonafide prodigy, most people start at at a base level of expertise: a beginner. As they grow, practice, and cultivate their specific area of interest, they will hopefully become an expert in their field.
This title of expert may seem a bit arbitrary; who can really determine whether someone is an expert at something? Andrews Ericsson argues that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to make someone an expert. This notion is widely debated for the simple fact that every single person is different in their learning capabilities and that each skill may vary in the time it takes to really get good at it.
So how do you really measure expertise? According to Harvard Business Review, there are 3 main tests one must pass in order to be considered a true expert:
These measurements work well for fields such as medicine or sports. A surgeon can yield more successful heart surgeries; a baseball player can have a substantially high RBI. There are many proofs that can be guaranteed in certain fields, but how does this measure of being an “expert” translate to the field of digital media and design?
When it comes to being a designer, it may be a bit complicated to figure out exactly where someone lies on the spectrum of expertise. While social media analytics can give us some concrete results that are easy to measure, designer expertise can be harder to quantitatively measure. However, there are 3 categories that can help us identify the level of skill someone in this field truly has. Are you working with an expert, a novice, or a wannabe?
Let’s start out at the base level here. When it comes down to it, every single designer was a beginner at some point in their career. There is no bypassing this stage. Many of our designers will admit their humble beginning of using Microsoft Paint and some very early beta versions of Adobe Photoshop for their design work.
“A Wannabe” in this case is not just someone who is merely a beginner in the field. While they may be new to it, they have a distinct attitude that differs from a Novice or an Expert.
We can draw from Christianity as an example. We all know those Christians in the church who think they know it all (we may have even been that person!) They are full of energy, zeal, and passion. Their personality makes them shine and their charisma attracts others around them. Unfortunately, we may see this person full of zeal one day and then a few months later, their fire has burnt out and so have they.
The trouble we have with Wannabes is that they have a major blindspot: they think they know it all. While passion is vital for any career path or venture, passion cannot be the only thing you hang your hat on. This leads to you being “all talk but no walk.”
The one thing Wannabes lack is the wisdom that comes from experience.
Keep in mind, wisdom and knowledge are not interchangeable concepts. Wisdom is not just knowing a bunch of stuff but actually using that knowledge and living it out in a meaningful way. The gathering of knowledge is not enough to make you into an expert; it is a healthy combination of knowledge and experience that yield the wisdom of an expert.
A Wannabe can be extremely impulsive. They make decisions on a whim without truly digging deep into the heart of a matter. They may receive a design prompt and dive right into it without any sort of preparatory work. They lack the sort of preparedness that comes from rich experience in the field. This in the end can result in major design issues, lack of client satisfaction, and even burn out.
We aren’t trying to condemn Wannabes here. We just want to outline the danger of operating in any sort of field without the depth of wisdom needed to become a true expert.
While a Wannabe and a Novice may not differ all that much in their skillset, there is one distinct thing that sets them apart from one another: humility. The charisma of a Wannabe may often propel them to become prideful in their way of operating. Because they think they know it all, they will hardly look to others for help.
Going back to the example of Christianity, new converts can fall into this same trap too. Because they had a crazy encounter with God for themselves, they may not take the time to look to others who are wiser and deeper in their faith. Proverbs 12:15 says it pretty plainly: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But a wise man is he who listens to counsel.”
A Novice is someone who not only has charisma but it is always willing to submit to the wisdom of others in order to tame that charisma. They have the passion and even some of the skill, they just need a bit of help in how to cultivate those things.
A Wannabe is like a Youngling (oh yes, we’re referencing Star Wars). They are young and a bit wild without the full maturity necessary to grow. But a Novice is like a Padawan. They are still very new to the ways of the Force, but they are on a track to maturity through their submission to the teachings of their Jedi Master.
It is through this learning phase that they learn to not only grow in their skills hard skills but will also learn the cost of the becoming an expert. Becoming a Jedi requires a lot of dedicated time, hard lessons, and immense sacrifice.
This level of maturity is typically the tipping point for not just Padawans, but also Novice designers and creators. If they are unwilling to learn from others and refine their skills, they will fall right back into being a Wannabe. Or like Annakin (a.k.a. Darth Vader) they may reject the practice all together and turn their own way.
A Novice is humble, willing to be taught, and willing to fail. They are able to grow in wisdom through learning how to deal with setbacks and hardships as well as triumphs and moments of success. Their willingness to learn will either make or break them.
We’ve hinted a lot at the characteristics of an expert. Experts are full of both skill but also wisdom. Ability yet willingness to not just learn once but to continually learn. True experts never just “arrive.” Even when they have reached an exceptionally high level of expertise, they are keenly aware that there is always room for growth.
What is the one particular characteristic experts have that sets them apart? Intentionality.
Don’t get us wrong, experts surely have the skillset and wisdom to be able to dive right into just about any project and knock it out of the park. However, they are restrained in the way they operate. Their wisdom has taught them that there is so much more to each project than simply creating or designing something. There is always work to be done underneath the surface.
At PMF Creative, one thing we highly value is understanding the voice and heart of our clients. Yes, our designers can design at a base level exceptionally well. However, good design means nothing if there is no intentionality behind it.
When we work with our clients, we get to know them at more than just the surface level. We want to share in the heart and mission of their church or organization. We want to be able to deeply know their voice and values. Our designers aren’t just machines pumping out products for faceless clients; they are experts who have the wisdom to know that intention in design matters!
An expert may have a ton of hard figures that prove their expertise: great social media engagement, an expensive hourly rate, and so forth. But the true mark of an expert is someone who is humble, willing to continually learn (from failures and triumphs), and understands the heart behind the project.
Whether you are a Wannabe, a Novice, or an Expert, there is always so much room to grow in your craft and skill. None of us will ever be 100% perfect at what we do, but as long as we are willing to grow and learn from those Jedis around us, we are well on our way to expertise!
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