You should be teaching what you know (even if you’re no expert)
I read a story recently about two developers. Both had roughly the same expertise and learned at about the same rate. As they improved their skills, one of the developers shared everything he learned on a blog. The blog soon became so popular that he grew a huge audience and raised thousands of dollars in a related Kickstarter campaign.
The other developer, having shared nothing he learned, had barely an audience to speak of.
What I love about this story is that the developer who didn’t share what he learned thought little of the other developer’s blog. For him, the blog posts were useless, because it didn’t teach him anything he didn’t already know. What he failed to realise was that a huge number of people didn’t know all those things yet. The first developer took advantage of the fact that there’s always someone who doesn’t know as much as you.
If you know anything—and I know you do—you should be teaching what you know right now.
Not convinced? Here are three big reasons to get started straight away.
You don’t have to become an expert first
Have you ever thought about teaching others what you know, only to be held back by the feeling that you’re not an expert yet? That you don’t have the experience, the qualifications, or the visibility to start teaching yet?
There are two ways to get past this problem and start teaching now. The first is a lesson I learned from Sean McCabe, an independent Lettering Artist & Type Designer who has built up a community of thousands:
“You don’t have to have an audience to teach nor do you have to be an expert. You’ll grow your audience and be seen as an expert BY teaching.”
Remember those two developers I told you about? The one who shared what he was learning was not an expert when he started teaching. He taught other people what he knew, and there were enough people who weren’t at his level yet (but wanted to be) that his teaching helped propel him to become seen as an expert in his field.
The more you teach, the more people will see you as an expert. And the more people see you as an expert, the more opportunities you’ll get to teach—you might be asked to give talks or lectures, to contribute to books or magazines, or to be interviewed on blogs, podcasts or radio shows. And each time you’re teaching more people, and more people are discovering your expertise.
The second way to get past the feeling that you’re not “expert enough” to teach others is to reframe the process. I like to think of it as sharing, rather than teaching. There’s less pressure in sharing what you’ve learned or experienced than teaching on a topic.
It’s okay to not have all the answers, and it’s okay to be wrong. Framing the process as “sharing what you know” gives you more leeway to feel comfortable making mistakes, changing your mind, and sharing your knowledge in the context of your own experiences. It doesn’t make it any less valuable to your “students”, but it can make it easier to get started.
You learn better by teaching others
Another reason you shouldn’t wait to start teaching others is that it will help you learn. Research has shown that when we explain something to other people, we come to understand it better ourselves. The process of teaching others helps us recognize gaps in our own understanding and better organize information in our minds.
We’re also better at taking in the information initially, when we’ve been primed to think we’ll be teaching it to someone else later. It seems that this comes from a different way of approaching the learning material. We know we need to pay attention to the most important points and organize them in our minds, if we’re going to teach someone else.
It’s even been shown that first-born children are generally more intelligent than their younger brothers and sisters—potentially due to their efforts to share knowledge with younger siblings.
So, if nothing else, teach others for your own sake. Even if you have an audience of zero, start blogging, podcasting or creating videos to share the knowledge you’re learning. You’ll reap the benefits in your own learning progress, regardless of whether you’re helping others (yet) or not.
Teaching builds your brand
Just like the chicken-or-the-egg problem of being an expert before you can teach, you don’t have to have an audience before you start teaching. Not only will you be reaping the benefits of better learning from putting effort into teaching others, but it’s a great way to grow your audience.
In fact, Crew founder Mikael Cho has written about this before, in the context of getting new customers. In his post, titled “Out-teach your competition“, Mikael wrote:
“When you create content that is practically useful, it helps build an audience better than any other type of content.”
As Mikael points out, readers prefer to share content that offers some practical utility.
There are plenty of examples of brands that have grown as a result of teaching what they knew. 37Signals is a great example. Nate Kontny has been sharing lessons he’s learned while working on Draft to great effect. Sean McCabe’s brand, Seanwes, is all about sharing everything he knows about business and creativity—and his brand is growing every day as a direct result of teaching.
Something I learned quickly after joining the Buffer team, a company that has grown to support hundreds of thousands of customers, was that our readers wanted actionable advice. They came to us to learn, and because we delivered time after time, our brand continued to grow.
As James Clear has pointed out, successful people start before they feel ready. Teaching is no exception.
Don’t worry about whether you’ve hit “expert” status yet, or how big (or small) your audience is. Focus on what you’ve learned, or what you’re learning right now, and how you can share those lessons in a way that will help others. If it helps, imagine you’re teaching your former self, before you’d learned these lessons.
Start sharing what you know. And don’t forget, there’s always someone who knows less than you. Go help them.