I first met Dr. Walter Herzog when he was 40 years old. I was a 22-year-old, inexperienced but overconfident master’s degree student when I stepped into his office at the University of Calgary. I was both impressed and intimidated. I could tell he meant business. He revealed in a later conversation that he did not feel the same way about me and, in so many words, told me that his first impression of me was not good. It would take me the better portion of two years to change my academic advisor’s opinion of me.
One day, I was sitting in Walter’s office talking to him about the research project we were working on—muscle-fiber recruitment patterns during eccentric contractions—and I asked him where his ability came from to develop his own ideas about how and why muscles work the way they do. (Walter is one of the smartest people I have ever met and is one of the top scientists in the world in the area of muscle mechanics.) Anticipating he was going to say something like, “That’s why I’m the advisor, and you’re the student,” I was surprised when he said, without hesitation, “Years of research.” It wasn’t until years later, after I had experienced years of research myself while working on my own PhD, that I understood what he had meant and had reached the empowering point where I could develop my own ideas.
Expertise is the foundation of all creative work.
When we become experts (not Instagram or Facebook experts, but real experts), we are able to think outside of the proverbial box and develop and pursue our own creative ideas. I’m grateful to Dr. Walter Herzog for teaching me this lesson when I was 22 years old. It has been my compass ever since.