To Be or Not To Be An Expert

— July 10, 2019

“Filmmaking is not about the tiny details. It’s about the big picture.” – Ed Wood, American filmmaker (1924-1978)

The fast evolution of technology and the explosion of knowledge has led to an age of specialization. As a result, more and more of my tech industry colleagues carry the title ‘expert’ on their business card.

I have mixed feelings about this trend. Of course, knowledge is power, we’re all trying to be the best in our jobs and we’re all experts in our own little niches. Just the fact that I have written more than 200 posts on this particular blog, makes me kind of a business communications expert, I guess… I leave it up to the readers of to judge if this is true or false.

But, there’s also a popular statement that says that an expert knows more and more about less and less until he or she knows everything about nothing. As difficult it may be to become a respected expert in a specific domain, as easy it is to be an accomplished specialist in your own field but a blithering idiot in all other matters. Many languages even have a word describing this type of person: ‘vakidioot’ in Dutch, ‘Fachidiot’ in German, ‘fakki-idiootti’ in Finnish, ‘????’ in Japanese… Much to my surprise, really, there doesn’t seem to be an English or American equivalent for this term.

To Be or Not To Be An Expert

Image: Nick Youngson, Alpha Stock Images (CC BY-SA 3.0)

I have been working in high-tech companies for the past 25 years and though I have developed a huge respect for all the subject matter experts around me, I am convinced that in science, technology and business we need more people who can communicate the broader picture in a compelling and comprehensive way. You may call us generalists, evangelists or storytellers. As I wrote in a previous post, I’m not a big fan of the over-used thought leader term.

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. And, if you can’t explain it to a six-year-old (or to your mother-in-law, in case you have no young children around) you don’t understand it yourself. Although it is questionable whether this word really came from Leonardo Da Vinci and Albert Einstein, the wisdom behind is indisputable.

If you’re writing a paper or creating a presentation about some expert topic, here are a few tips for making your content broader, simpler and better digestible:

  • Get the big picture. Always start by understanding the problem space. Selling or promoting technology because it’s sexy or new doesn’t make (economic) sense. What’s wrong or missing in today’s world? What can or needs to be done better?
  • Research your audience. Identify a specific problem or compelling use case. Where and how does your technology, product or solution fits in? Remember that value only exists in the eyes of the beholder. So, what’s in it for your readers or listeners?
  • Make abstraction of the internals (the inner workings) and the interface (the part ‘users’ get to see or interact with). Focus your communication on the latter one. This is where, ultimately, the value resides.
  • Reduce the number of details. Less is more. Separate the ‘need to know’ from the ‘nice to know’. Make your audience only remember what really matters to them.
  • Fill in the gaps. As an expert, some details may sound trivial to you, but may not be known by your audience. Make sure you give them the complete picture. Covering technology and business context.
  • Watch your language. No acronyms. No difficult words. No long sentences. Refrain from technology, financial or business jargon. Avoid complex drawings (but don’t make the too cloudy either).
  • Be practical and concrete. Examples, real-world use cases and live demonstrations will help you explain the problem, show the solution and convey its possible value.
  • Tell a story. A good story can put your whole brain to work. It makes the complex simple and the message more memorable. People tend to forget figures, lists and bullet points. Stories help to persuade where facts can’t.

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Author: Marc Jadoul

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