Sunday, April 6, 2014


If you haven't seen "The Expert," you should take a few minutes when you have time, and watch it. It's pretty funny.

But it also offers some really biting insight into one of the most common corporate dysfunctions that I've encountered in my working life - people making promises or setting expectations without the input of the people who actually have to do the work or understand things well enough to know what's realistic and what isn't. It also illustrates the slide into cynicism that many subject matter experts grapple with, as they come to understand that despite the fact that people think they have a handle on things, they don't know what they don't know, and therefore, they can't evaluate the final deliverable in any event.

In this regard, casting the project as being about lines is brilliant, as it really allows the viewer to inhabit Anderson's mindspace and realize one of the central problems with attempting to explain things to non-experts in the subject - prior knowledge constrains explanation. (There is, of course, a snarky name for this, that I don't recall right now.) Once Anderson realizes that, regardless of what they think, Sandra and Justine don't have the requisite understanding to competently evaluate the final deliverable, he comes to understand that he could deliver virtually anything he wants, and as long as they have faith in his expertise, they will accept it as being what they asked for. Walter and Mr. Pule(?) don't know any better, either, but they have committed to the client that the project is really simple and can be easily carried out. Walter as the project manager falls into a trap that I have looked to avoid in my own career - agreeing with the higher-ups in the company, and subsequently becoming an agent for their wishes and desires, rather than being a neutral facilitator.

One of the most difficult things for many people to understand is that the role of a subject matter expert is to be the person who helps determine what's reasonable for the scope and parameters of a given project, not to rubber-stamp the desires (and often unrealistically optimistic assumptions that flow from them) that people have for it.

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