What’s Your Nextpertise? You Should Always Be Building One

This summer marks 40 years since I received my Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering. A field I worked in for fewer years than it took me to learn. And yet, the skills that allowed me to earn that degree have carried into every role I have had since.

What I can say now is that throughout my career, I have had pride in what I do, but was always looking at what I wanted to do next. Identifying the stretch to a new level of capability – my “Nextpertise”.


Each role I’ve held was a learning opportunity, and each learning opened new options for the next role. My nextpertise was a continuously developing chain all built on the basic fundamental understanding of how machines work, and then working closely with people to help them manage their processes. And now, while I have been in my current role for a dozen years, I have had the opportunity to apply all that learning across global work processes, and help leaders manage in new and different ways to allow teams to deliver on their best promise.

What Will You Be Doing 5 Years From Now?

So if you are not thinking about your Nexterptise, that thing that you will be doing 5 years from now, you better get on it. Here are a few ideas that you might consider for making that happen, and making it happen sooner than later.

  1. Think about the last time you had a week or a month where you felt like work was awesome everyday. Ask yourself why. Were you engaged every day? Were you thriving on accomplishment or recognition? Did you have great people around you or did you have the opportunity for more solo work that left you feeling really fulfilled?
  2. Recall any conversations you had where someone said to you “I wish I could do that the way you do.” You might have dismissed it, but in reality that may be a secret strength you are just not sufficiently self-aware of.
  3. Forget about that corner office or specific role you think you want. Know what you want to do, not just what you want to be. I’ve never been big on titles or office space. Today my office is all in my backpack, and I can work in a phone booth or  a coffee shop. The day I realized my office was a “nest” and that too many horizontal surfaces make for a bad storage plan was one of the most eye-opening of my career.
  4. Be generous with the less-skilled. Know that someone in your organization will do the work you do today, only better. Think about that – if I am to be part of a successful organization, I should be building “nextpertise” in others who will, because of their broader exposures, be able to perform better than I did.

You might be thinking that the last point doesn’t help you, but it is the most critical – in some organizations you may not be able to move on until you have made sure there is a legacy of learning behind you.

Know what you want to be doing, build the learning into what you are doing today to allow you to do that, and leave the trail for others to benefit from. They won’t follow you exactly (hey, they aren’t clones!), but they will pick and choose and build on what you leave behind.