Adobe-full Adobe Behance arrow-down arrow-right LineCreated with Sketch. close-tablet-03 close-tablet-05 comment dropdown-close dropdown-open facebook instagram linkedin rss search share twitter
Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

Marketing Your Work

Understanding How to Frame Your Creative Expertise

You don't need to be all-knowing to make a meaningful contribution to your team.

Again and again I see talented people with ideas they want to share – books they want to write, talks they want to give, businesses they want to launch – holding back because they think they “don’t know enough” about their topic.

“After all,” they reason, “there are real experts on this out there – and I’m not one of them.” They’re thinking about the people with advanced degrees and decades of deep experience working in the field.

In fact, that’s just one type of expert — “the specialist.” There are three other kinds of experts that make world-changing contributions, without specialist training.

You are likely one of these four types of expert, when it comes to the work you most want to do. As you read, identify which type (or types) of expertise you could bring to the projects you are currently pursuing as well as those that you want to pursue:

1. The Survivor

You’ve been through something, learned a heck of a lot along the way, and now you are on fire to share what you’ve learned. Maybe, like best-selling author Kris Carr, you lived through cancer and want to write about your path to health. Maybe, like Jonathan Fields, you’ve started a few businesses and want to share insights about entrepreneurship.

“Survivors” often worry that their personal experience is not enough to earn them credibility or allow them to make a meaningful contribution, but consider these powerful strengths of this source of authority: You have an ability to move and connect with your audience that most formal experts on your topic don’t have. You can provide inspiration and role-modeling– not just information. You have insider insights that will help you create a more compelling offering for your audience.

But, be careful, here’s where you could get in your own way: it’s easy to over-generalize from your experience to that of others. If “survivor” is your source of expertise, tell your story as powerfully as you can, and pass on your lessons learned as just that – without making claims on having the truth or the solutions for everyone. People will listen up simply because you are honestly sharing what did and didn’t work for you.

You have an ability to move and connect with your audience that most formal experts on your topic don’t have.

2. The Cross Trainer

When an athlete cross-trains,they “train in a sport other than the one that they compete in, with a goal of improving overall performance.” In our context, the “cross trainer” is the physicist who takes a look at a problem in medicine, the family therapist who writes about fixing dysfunctional teams at work. Cross trainers have deep expertise in field “x,” and bring ways of thinking from field “x” to bear as they look at field “y.” Business leaders Whitney Johnson and Clay Christensen each apply theories on business development to personal development. Tom Ford applied his expertise in fashion design to cinematography when he created the stunning film, A Single Man.

Cross trainers make interdisciplinary connections and drive innovation. They see the blind spots of the conventional thinking in the field they’ve turned their attention to.

However, if you are a cross trainer, here’s where to watch out: you may miss seeing how insights from your field of expertise are not applicable to your new topic. For example, many MBAs have hindered nonprofits by assuming that all the planning tools and metrics used in a business should be applied to nonprofits to make them more efficient.

For cross-trainers, the charge is to be bold in asking provocative questions and making interdisciplinary leaps, but humble about the applicability of anything across fields. Focus on starting new conversations and prototyping cross-training-based solutions without assumptionsabout what will in fact apply across fields.

3. The Called

Then there are those people that dive into a project out of a sense of calling. They feel an inner, mysterious sense of “this work is mine to do.” Jessica Jackley felt outraged that conventional charity didn’t empower the poor to help themselves, and out of a persistent frustration with that status quo, and a sense of calling, began developing, now the world’s largest microfinance platform.

The called bring many gifts to their work.  They have sustainable passion. They have vision and – perhaps most important – ardent dissatisfaction with the status quo where insiders may have become resigned.

The challenge for the called is to trust their sense of calling. That is particularly difficult when they can’t find a logical reason why they’re attracted to a project, or qualified for it. The called generally feel that they don’t have what they need – and they aren’t who they need to be – to complete their calling.

Their charge is to start anyway in whatever partial way they can. They also need to gather mentors to fill in knowledge gaps –those who support (and aren’t threatened by) an outsider bringing new ideas and vision.

The challenge for the called is to trust their sense of calling.

4. The Specialist

In our culture, this type of authority is most validated and embraced. The specialist has formal training (degrees, certifications) or lots of work experience in the area of their project. They might also achieve their specialist knowledge by conducting extensive research on their topic.

Brene Brown, a professor of Social Work spent years conducting research on shame and vulnerability and now speaks and writes widely on these topics. Dr. Harriet Lerner honed her expertise with hundreds of clients in her private psychology practice before writing her best-selling books on our emotional lives.

The pluses of this kind of expertise are many: specialists have a sense of the standard industry knowledge on their topic. They have the benefit of industry networks. Because they’ve seen so many examples over the years, they can tell apart the trends and the outliers.

The downside? Specialists often get stuck in inside-the-box thinking. They can also get distracted with the politics of their field or in debates about minutiae. To avoid that, specialists must talk regularly with colleagues from related but different disciplines, and seek out rebels and dissidents at the margin of their fields, listening to their perspectives with an open mind.


Immeasurable contributions are lost because many of us think that #4 – formal training/work experience – is the only kind of legitimate authority. We usually don’t hold that belief when it applies to other people – we are thrilled to read that nonfiction book based on someone’s personal journey or to listen to the interesting TED talk by a cross trainer. But for ourselves? We think we don’t know enough.

To be sure, specialists are extremely important. We benefit enormously from living in an age when there is so much information available, when formal education is becoming more and more accessible, and when there are people with deep, specialized knowledge. All of that is invaluable – but it is not the only kind of value.

Identify which source – or sources – of expertise you bring to your current project. Leverage its strengths. Most of all, trust that it is enough – not because it enables you to know everything, but because it enables you to make the contribution you are uniquely qualified to make.

How about you?

How have you successfully framed your expertise?

Comments (105)
  • Caleb Kinchlow

    This is a great article

  • Karl J. Hierl

    Hey TARA, high valuable for me, as I start developing a brand new way of healing people by means of their own healing capacities. The temptation its, to see the whole framework of healing-capacities – an merging them as one strong power! Exactly that has to be communicated – an when changing the focus from one to another of your 4 type, i am shire, to get in contact with mor people -and really meet their needs better. You´ve given me 3 new ways of looking at the topic! THANKS!!! Karl

  • ray ban paris

    ray ban paris…

    Intriguing insights, you should contemplate doing a podcast on organization and marketing….

  • Siedah Mitchum

    Great share.

    Confidence is key at any level. Whether you have a degree or not. I have a degree in graphic design and 12 years of experience. Most of the time I feel like I am a “survivor”.

    In the world of design, you have to constantly keep learning because although basics don’t fade trends pop up often. Be confident in who you are and what you provide.

    Confidence & Value is key!

  • ¿Qué tipo de experto eres? | bloading

    […] Fuente: 99U […]

  • What Kind Of Creative Are You?: Understanding Your Creative Expertise -Quest After It

    […] This begs us to ask the question; What kind of creative person are you? Check out the full article here! […]

  • Google


    Every the moment in a when we choose blogs that we study. Listed beneath would be the most current web-sites that we opt for.

  • How To Launch A Business or Blog When You’re Not an Expert | Puttylike

    […] When we think about being an expert, we usually think about being a specialist – someone with formal qualifications and experience in a particular area. But there are many types of expert. […]

  • John Chang

    Love your balancing the strengths of each type with the weaknesses. Struggling to figure if I have a calling while I’ve experienced being both survivor and often seeing the world as a cross-trainer!

  • Andrei Graunte

    Thank you Tara, well said – there is unique value in each of us. How do we make it shine?

  • Link Constellation: June 2014

    […] Having a blog nowadays is a major step to build your expertise in a field – it doesn’t care if you think you’re too young to be defined an expert. Maybe there are different kinds of experts. […]

  • Understanding How to Frame Your Creative Expert...

    […] You don't need to be all-knowing to make a meaningful contribution to your team.  […]

  • Meryl

    This is a brilliantly insightful article. I am making a career change and sometimes struggle with confidently articulating my transferable experience. Now I have a name and definition of my brand of expertise, I will go forward and confidently embrace my inner “cross-trainer” and “survivor”.

  • Lea Acosta Angeles

    I’m a survivor, YES! This is a MUST-READ article. I’m inspired and empowered. Thanks Tara.🙂

  • Samah El Hakim

    Almost 2 years afterwards, I am half-way through making some of my ideas concrete in the form of a personal exhibition of illustrated posters. Thanks again!🙂

  • How to get a career that provides stability | Careers News

    […] 99U suggests we package your creativity into one of 4 forms of people: a survivor, a cross-trainer, a called, and a specialist. On a one hand, this plan allows we to market yourself to people in a memorable, eatable way that creates we some-more expected to land a job. But some-more importantly, stepping behind from your creativity so we can wrestle it onto a resume allows we to provide creativity like firecrackers we control with a match, rather than a drum coaster we float on consistent loop. […]

  • 5 Career Fears I (Still) Face - and How I Manage Them. » HeartWork

    […] This article by Tara Mohr recently helped me recognize that there are different ‘types’ of expertise one can have. The expert-roles I feel greatest affinity with are those of being ‘called’ or a ‘survivor’ – of having struggled with the same work/life questions the women I coach with myself. Stepping into those roles is when I shine the most. […]

  • Reigning in Subject-Matter Expertise to Improve Work - Fulcrum Connection : Fulcrum Connection

    […] How to Frame Your Creative Expertise,” Tara Mohr describes four types of experts ( Tara describes one type, the specialist, as one who has any combination of formal degrees, work […]

  • Google


    The time to study or visit the content or web-sites we’ve linked to beneath.


    […]below you’ll find the link to some internet sites that we assume it is best to visit[…]

  • Google


    Just beneath, are numerous totally not related web-sites to ours, nonetheless, they are surely worth going over.

  • Four Tips for Thwarting Impostor Syndrome | Aspiring Mormon Women

    […] group of people—people with advanced degrees and decades of experience working in their fields. Tara Sophia Mohr outlines that there are in fact four different types of experts […]

  • Understanding How to Frame Your Creative Expertise - Kim Werker

    […] Immeasurable contributions are lost because many of us think that… formal training/work experience is the only kind of legitimate authority. We usually don’t hold that belief when it applies to other people – we are thrilled to read that nonfiction book based on someone’s personal journey or to listen to the interesting TED talk by a cross trainer. But for ourselves? We think we don’t know enough. – Understanding How to Frame Your Creative Expertise – 99U […]

  • داستان خودت را بگو؛ خلاقیت فقط در «متخصص‌ها» نیست! - قدم زدن در باغ عدن

    […] بر متخصص‌ها، نوآوری در افراد دیگر هم وجود دارد که تارا سوفیا آن را خلاقانه دسته‌بندی کرده است. در زیر این چهار […]

1 3
blog comments powered by Disqus

More articles on Marketing Your Work

Unknown copy