If You Want Become An Expert At Something, Teach It To Someone Else

If You Want Become An Expert At Something, Teach It To Someone Else

It seems natural to assume that teaching a skill learning means learning all about it first. Often, however, the best teachers are the ones who don’t stop learning themselves.

Photo by Rex Pe

As Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel Mike Kenny explains, the ability to teach isn’t just useful to teachers. Being able to understand an idea well enough to convey it to others will help you internalise it yourself. Not only that, but it will make you more effective at being both a leader and a team player:

We’ll tell guys up front, “Hey, your primary job is as a teacher, as an instructor.” Our bread and butter mission is unconventional warfare. The Surgical Strike portion of our portfolio is important no doubt, but the Special Warfare part of that portfolio is what people need to understand. It implies that we’re going to be working through proxies. That means I have to be able to teach. I need to be able to convey information. I need to be able to influence diplomatically, because these are partners. They’re not subordinates where I say, “You do this.” You’ve got to win them over. You’ve got to be able to convince them, so if you can’t instruct, if you can’t work through a proxy, through another party, and you’ve got to do everything unilaterally yourself, as an SF guy I don’t want to say you’re worthless, but you’re not that valuable.

You don’t necessarily need to get a job at a university, and depending on how eclectic the skill is, you might find trouble finding willing pupils. However, the internet is always a good place to start trying to teach, and if nothing else you can always practice to yourself. The important thing is that you approach learning a skill with the mentality of teaching it to others.

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  • Not sure getting a job at a university makes you a better teacher (or even a teacher)…I’ve seen my share of university professors who are good at presenting information without regard over whether anybody understands them at all….

    • It depends on the person. I taught a bit of game programming to kids when I was younger as a hobby and it really helped me refine and solidify what I already knew. I don’t really think using words so slowing down and learning something well enough to communicate concepts easily and effectively really helped me improve the core knowledge that everything else stemmed from.
      If you’re just relaying what you’re reading in a text book to a group of people it’s probably not going to help, but if you’re sitting down and doing real one on one work with someone you end up thinking about things with a lot more depth than it takes to actually perform the task. You pick up on unimportant mistakes. You have to answer ‘why do we do it like that’ with the actual reason rather than just accepting that it’s how it’s done.

  • I get my 11 year old son to test me on the work he needs to learn. It works very well as he takes ownership of the information and needs to genuinely understand it.

  • There is something to it. I teach karate. I’ve found that with many of my students, if I get them to teach certain things to those lower down the ranks, they tend to improve their own performance.

    When you have to teach, particularly when it comes to skills rather than knowledge, you have to re-evaluate what you know and analyse HOW you know it in order to find a way of transmitting it to those who don’t yet know, and try to get the best performance out of them, even if you cannot yourself do it well for some reason. In doing so, you may also become better at it, because you’ve had to analyse it and work through it.

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