Becoming an Expert

There are two incidents that prompted me to write this blog. A few years back, I was diagnosed with Crohns disease at a clinic in Sharjah. It is an incurable, autoimmune disease needing lifelong medication, and I was under medication for almost an year. While vacationing in Cochin, Kerala, my wife told me to consult Padmashree Doctor Philip Augustine, arguably the most renowned gastroenterologist in Asia, who is credited with the diagnosis of Crohns disease for the first time in India. When I told him I had Crohns disease, within seconds and by just looking at me he told, “You do not have Crohns disease.” A few tests later proved what he said was correct — I had another gastrointestinal problem which was diagnosed and cured under his treatment.

While playing football with the kids at our housing society recently, I sprained my leg and had to consult an ankle and foot orthopedic doctor, Dr. Rajesh Simon. During the first consultation, he closely examined my sprained-ankle and prescribed 3-week rest with a supporting ankle brace. I met him after three weeks, and by just looking at my ankle he said that my problem was solved. I was surprised because he did not do any close examination of my ankle. So I asked him, “Doctor, how are you able to say I am cured without examining my ankle?” He said, “I knew it from the way you walked into my room.” He further explained that he almost diagnosed “as and from the way” people walked into his room and that further checks were more or less to reconfirm his initial diagnosis.

Not all gastroenterologists are like Doctor Philip, nor have all ankle and foot orthopedic doctors the skills as Doctor Rajesh. These two doctors are experts in their respective areas of specialization. Haven’t you heard about mechanical engineers who can tell which part of an engine has the problem by listening to small aberrations in the sounds of an engine-on-work? All mechanical engineers cannot do it. If we take any field like photography, sales and marketing, farming, teaching, fishing, masonry, cooking, etc., we will find people who stand out with their extraordinary performance. They possess expertise. Why are all engineers or doctors or others in their fields not experts but a few? How did they become experts though their academic credentials were only as good as their non-expert counterparts?

The emblem of my alma mater: Institute of Rural Management Anand, or I.R.MA., one among the many gems of institutions founded by the Father of the Indian Dairy Sector, Dr. Verghese Kurien, is a half-bloom lotus. Once we asked a professor why the emblem was so and that why it was not a full-bloom lotus. He explained that every pass-out, though equipped with management skills, was only half-baked to manage the ways and means and that the petals of the other half were to be added up as he/she progressed in career, leading to a full-bloom professional. Every profession is a march to add petals to the half-bloomed flower called education.

We are familiar with the terms: ‘means to an end’ and ‘an end in itself,’ with the former indicating something is done in order to be led to something else while the latter means that there is only something in something, no something else. It may sound oxymoron to say that every piece of knowledge is an end in itself as well as a means to an end. In other words, every piece of knowledge has as much its own meaning — a purpose to fulfill — as its external linkages. And this purpose to fulfill is the end while the external linkage is the means. A fully-bloomed professional is habituated to understand the end of knowledge but largely misses out the means. But an expert does catch hold of both the end and the means and give due weightage they deserve. Hence, becoming an expert is a journey further and farther ahead from the full-bloom. So, how does one make this journey and become an expert? It is through something I call as Deep Learning.

Deep Learning is understanding “the purpose to full-fill” of a piece of knowledge as well as its “external linkages” in their entirety by acquiring every bit of the knowledge through going deep into its core. Knowledge is shrouded in layers over layers, with each layer adding fruition to your understanding of the knowledge-in-acquisition. As you make this deep-diving into the core with your eyes wide open, you will see the linkages — means — as offshoots from the layers that cover the core. A closer look at the these offshoots will divulge their inalienable connections to the means of other pieces of knowledge around. Furthermore, the layers reflect the characteristics of the core that have congruous or incongruous impacts on the means of adjoining knowledge-area. And the theatre of this process of diving is the profession you are engaged in.

Deep Learning takes a man to the core where crux of the matter is placed. In this process, not only does he understand the end but the means also. The crux of the matter, the layers of and the offshoots from a piece of knowledge together form expertise, and one who possesses them is an expert. This deep and wide diving out to the core is the journey that one needs to undertake to become an expert. You are tracked to add the remaining layers of knowledge as you progress in your profession, but to become an expert, you need to take the journey of Deep Learning.

Crohn’s disease happens deep inside the gastrointestinal tract, which can be studied and understood through internal examination and biopsy, but there are linkages —means — like a person’s overall vitality, facial expressions, etc. based on which an expert like Philip Augustine can quickly read the crux and diagnose the disease. Reading the subtle elements of leg movements, along with layering and offshoot factors like easiness of or difficulty in other bodily movements, can make an expert like Dr. Simon to do a quick diagnosis of the problem in the bones, so does identifying of and reading from an incongruent sound alert the expert in a mechanical engineer. In all these cases, the expertise, i.e., the end and the means of knowledge, acquired through Deep Learning makes them experts. Dive down to the end of the end and the means of the knowledge at stake and become a Deeply-Learnt person, for that is the way to become an expert.

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