Experience and expertise are very different.

It took me a long time – much longer than I would like to admit – to realize there is a significant difference between experience and expertise. In my first few years at Avanti, I regularly made the mistake of wrongly inferring more years of experience would translate to a greater degree of expertise. While there should be a strong correlation between the two, it’s certainly not a given.

I have met professionals with thirty years of experience who, after one year, repeated roughly the same experience thirty times over. Conversely, I have met professionals with five years of experience who have meaningfully evolved their thinking and knowledge each and every year and have been able to cultivate a deep set of expertise as a result.

Experience relates to the practical knowledge built over time through personal and direct involvement in a set of tasks or activities. Inevitably, even if involuntarily, repeating experiences over and over again will build knowledge, comfort, familiarity, and enhanced understanding; however, that learning is likely to become increasingly nuanced and add only minimal marginal benefit over time.

Expertise relates to the development of mastery in a certain subject matter and requires a deep understanding of best practices, theories, and how these can be applied in practical situations. The development of frameworks, mental models, and ‘playbooks’ helps establish professional expertise over time. Expertise leads to more clear pattern recognition and a more informed perspective on how to approach familiar and often similar situations.

The two are certainly related as it’s impossible to truly develop mastery and expertise in any subject without having meaningful relevant lived experiences. You can have significant experience and lack expertise, but you cannot have expertise without significant experience.

Understanding there is a key distinction between the two has aided me meaningfully in several critical decision-making scenarios, such as a) hiring, b) promoting, and c) investing behind someone. I have immense respect and ascribe meaningful value to experience; however, I now try to avoid assuming someone has expertise due to their experience, and instead seek to directly validate it. I’ve also observed over time, that professionals who actively and intentionally seek to build expertise and mastery, tend to be more dedicated to lifelong learning and improvement, which often correlates well with better professional performance. Hopefully the distinction resonates with you as it has for me.