Eye of the SME's beholder

Where is the value in information?
The value is in the eye of the beholder and in the strength of the relationship with the informant. The information becomes more valuable when it appears that way to the receiver's frames of reference, perception filters and expectations. It also seems more valuable when the informant seems to really care about and understand the receiver of the information. It's like the sayings: "they don't care how much you know until they now how much you care" or "telling ain't selling".

What about information that is valuable regardless of who receives it?
That's the frame of reference of most subject matter experts (SME's). Assuming the information is useful regardless is like dishing out drugs without a prescription or dispensing eyeglasses with somebody else's lenses. If the every person being informed is seen as the same, there's no need to be concerned with other frames of reference. Besides, the information is useful to the SME for appearing as an expert, having information to provide and getting admired as exceptional. The SME's use-context defines the value of the information that is then pitched as "valuable information" for receivers to consume.

Isn't that the same premise as mass manufacturing, merchandising and media?
Yes indeed. The hardest thing for inventors to do is think of how their precious innovation gets used in the customer's context. Similarly, when a factory sells millions of the same widget or a TV show gets millions of viewers, it's easy to presume that the value is in the product, not the eye of the beholder. When one size fits all, variations between customers is of no concern.

How can SME's become concerned with value in the eyes of the beholder?
I've found it does not help to talk with SME's about the difference between content-centered and learned-centered approaches. Rather, it helps them-+** to assume that information is useless until it's put to use. Acting as if there is no inherent value out of a use-context puts the expertise in question. Then the frames of reference of the end-users come into play and offer solutions to the problem of providing useful information. How those getting informed "conceive of what they are being given" becomes a valid consideration.


  1. Interesting. In my organisation we have some real subject gurus. They have real in depth knowledge about a subject or industry.

    Sometimes I invite these guys along to share their knowledge via a masterclass with other people. However they often really struggle with this (and are even frightened by the idea). But if you speak with them on a one to one basis they can be very engaging. Geting them to adopt this mindset with groups has been a challenge - any ideas?


  2. Hi Chris
    Thanks for question and example of a situation where a SME is not inclined to see the audience's viewpoints. The Heath brothers (Made To Stick) call this "the curse of knowledge". The more we know about something, the more we forget what it's like to be unfamiliar, new or naive about our expertise. It helps any expert to switch from thinking about the answers they can give to the questions that might get asked. It can also help to get into those engaging conversations like you've experienced. The experts not only hear themselves say different things than usual, they learn from the interactions about less expert viewpoints.

    This may also be a question of experts being introverts who are naturally good one-on-one and drained by group dynamics. Extroverts are the opposite: energized when "engaging the group from on stage" and depleted by dyads they find to be "too personal".

    It may help to change the premise from a "master class" that focuses on the SME's expertise to a "mastery class" that focuses on the learners' refining their own expertise. That may take the form of a community of practice, problem solving session, or collaborative troubleshooting process (like your interchange with me here is doing).