What could a lacemaker have in common with vascular surgeons? A Savile Row tailor with molecular scientists? A fighter pilot with jazz musicians? At first glance, very little. But Roger Kneebone is the expert on experts, having spent a lifetime finding the connections.

In Expert, he combines his own experiences as a doctor with insights from extraordinary people and cutting-edge research to map out the path we're all following - from 'doing time' as an Apprentice, to developing your 'voice' and taking on responsibility as a Journeyman, to finally becoming a Master and passing on your skills. As Kneebone shows, although each outcome is different, the journey is always the same.

Whether you're developing a new career, studying a language, learning a musical instrument or simply becoming the person you want to be, this ground-breaking book reveals the path to mastery.

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'Becoming Expert'

When I visited Derek Frampton, he was posing a clouded leopard. I’d never seen a clouded leopard before. She was sitting like a cat, her tail curled round her, gazing at a tiny cub which looked as if it was about to run away and play. They were so realistic I could hardly believe they were stuffed.

Derek is a taxidermist, one of the best there is. He’d invited me to his house to see how he works. We were in his ‘display room’, full to bursting with animals of every kind. Glass cases of birds and reptiles, every surface covered with creatures. On one table was a parakeet nearing completion, its wings held in position by threads; on another was an alligator with its jaws about to snap shut, next to a tree frog glowing like a jewel in the sunlight. Apart from the eerie stillness it was like being in a menagerie.

I’d arranged to visit Derek because he’s one of the country’s leading experts in his field. I’m interested in experts and I wanted to find out more. Moving a half-finished skink from a chair so I could sit down, Derek explained what taxidermy involves.

He made the process sound pretty straightforward. You remove the animal’s skin, recreate its body shape in plaster and replace the skin. He showed me a zebra’s hide, shapeless and slumped in a corner. When I asked how he would remake the animal before the final stages, he said ‘Well, you just sculpt a zebra that size and put the skin back on’.

It’s that ‘just’ that’s key. If you want a zebra, you just sculpt one that size. It’s obvious. But to me it isn’t obvious, it’s unimaginable. It’s what makes Derek an expert.

'Doing Time'

It’s a Sunday in Manchester Royal Infirmary in 1974 and I’ve been sent to do ‘the bloods’. For the whole morning I go from patient to patient, taking blood for routine preoperative tests. Nobody else wants to do this job, which is why I’ve been given it. It’s the first time I’ve been in hospital as a medical student, and I’m feeling excited. Proudly wearing my new white coat, I’ve crammed my pockets with specimen tubes, syringes, needles and a wad of request forms. A harassed houseman (as newly qualified doctors were called at that time) has shown me once what to do, then vanished, leaving me to face the ward on my own.

By now I’m halfway through my time at medical school. For three years I’ve been learning facts. I’ve spent hours in the dissecting room, memorising anatomy. I’ve spent hours in the histology lab too, looking at slides under the microscope. I’ve learned about physiology, pharmacology and pathology. But I’ve never touched a patient.

My first two ‘bloods’ are easy, patients with large juicy veins which are straightforward to puncture. My confidence blossoms - but not for long. It turns out I’ve had beginner’s luck. Once reality kicks in, I discover that taking blood can be incredibly difficult. Some patients seem to have no veins at all, or thick hard ones like clay pipe stems, or deceptive ones that look easy but burst into huge bruises at the touch of a needle. Often I cause my patients pain as I try again and again. Although they’re very understanding, I feel dreadful.

Even managing the kit is a challenge. I need at least four hands to hold the syringes, needles, tourniquets, sticking plasters and swabs. In spite of all the facts I’ve learned, when it comes to doing, I’m all thumbs. Just as bad are the triplicate forms, and the specimen tubes with tiny shiny labels which my biro won’t write on properly. Yet unless I’m meticulous, the forms and tubes can get muddled up. That could be disastrous. Quite apart from the physical skills of blood-taking I have to develop ways of keeping track, ensuring I can put my hand on things when I need them. Nobody has told me about that part. I’ve had to create a system for myself. It’s tough, but gradually I get the hang of it, and after a few more Sundays I feel a lot more confident. A couple of months later that confidence takes a hit.

I’ve been sent to put up a drip on a patient who’s been admitted on the emergency take. His blood pressure is low, the houseman is busy and I’ve been told to set up an intravenous infusion. I’ve seen it done, and it looked straightforward enough. After all, I’ve learned how to take blood now, so I should be able to put a cannula into a patient’s vein. Then reality kicks in again. Faced with a sick patient, a bag of sterile saline and yards of plastic tubing, I have no idea what to do. I’ve landed back on square one.

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