In-Ear Insights What qualifies someone as an expert

In-Ear Insights: In-Ear Insights: What Qualifies Someone As An Expert?

In this week’s In-Ear Insights, Katie and Chris discuss the six dimensions of expertise, and what constitutes someone being an expert or not. Learn what the 6 dimensions are and whether or not someone should be considered an expert.


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In-Ear Insights: What Qualifies Someone As An Expert?

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Machine-Generated Transcript

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Christopher Penn 0:00

In this week’s In-Ear Insights, there is so much happening in the world so many places and things and events that people look to experts for guidance for help on how to do something, everything from your Google Analytics, stopping working on July 1 to the latest trends in AI, to whatever talking head is on your favorite news channel.

Today, let’s talk about what makes someone an expert.

I asked our preeminent in house experts, the GPT-4 model, what what things the average American considers when evaluating someone’s expertise and machines spit out this list of things.

And so Katie, I want to bounce this off to you and then get your take on whether or not think these things make someone an expert credentials in education.

Okay, experience, published works in media appearances, peer recognition, reputation, and alignment with trusted sources are the six things that the robots think make someone an expert to you? What makes someone an expert?

Katie Robbert 1:08

Well, when I started working, when I started my career, two of those things were the only things that mattered one was education, and credentials, and the other was peer reviewed.

To be clear, I started in academia.

And so if you had, you know, an MD, or a PhD, next year name, and you were published in a peer reviewed, you know, scientific magazine, then you were considered an expert, it didn’t matter.

If you actually were like, in doing the work every day, or if you were just theorizing about it, you were considered an expert if you had an advanced degree.

And this was something that I had to learn the hard way.

Because I was told that in order to move up in my career, I had to have advanced degrees.

So I bit the bullet, I went back to grad school, and very quickly realized that none of the information I was being taught was going to be helpful in my every day.

And so I now have a master’s degree that is completely useless to me.

But I have it so I can have the letters behind my name.

And so I came from a world where the more letters you had behind your name, the more of a quote unquote, excellent you were.

I now stepping out of academia into more of the commercial world realize that’s not helpful at all the letters.

Sure they’re good.

They say that you know how to take a test and you know, can pass courses.

But I no longer consider that someone who is an expert, it’s a good starting point.

But it shouldn’t also be the endpoint.

So an expert is someone who has demonstrated experience with the thing, the context, the context that we’re talking about.

Christopher Penn 2:56

Okay, so pretend you are a CEO who doesn’t know anything about, say, Google Analytics.

And, you know, you heard on some podcast with, you know, some talking heads on it that Google Analytics 4 Is, is going to be the only game in town and you know, your company’s not up to scratch.

And you go out and you Google, you know, Google Analytics 4 experts, and you get a gazillion and a half responses.

How would How do you make a decision? How do you say, well, this person looks credible, or this person doesn’t this, this person’s got a nicely designed website? I can think of, you know, one of the the folks who is exceptionally knowledgeable in the space has a terrible website.

I mean, it looks it was put together in 2006.

But he happens to be you know, what are the people who is creating the the major changes in the way GA is used?

Katie Robbert 3:52

I would probably make a shortlist.

And your first question is, well, how do you make the shortlist? I would ask for references, I would ask my trusted peer group and say who have you talked to who do you know, who has a good reputation of these people? Do you know any of the names on this list? Because I agree.

You know, as someone who has a really crappy personal website, I feel like it’s not a good indicator of the person’s expertise.

So I would ask for shortlist so I would get that shortlist of people.

And then I would reach out to those people and say, I’ve been told that you’re an expert in Google Analytics.

I would love you know, to learn more about your experience with it.

Could you send me case studies? Can you show me examples? You know, I want to actually see the work, you know, obviously, you know, not violating any confidentiality agreements, but like, show me what you’ve got to show me the dashboards you’ve built.

Talk me through how you set up Google Analytics for websites similar to mine.

So again, I’m sort of going in not knowing anything about the software.

But I know the kinds of questions to ask to tell whether or not someone’s be asking me.

Christopher Penn 5:11

How do you do that for something we’re for which you have no domain expertise at all, let’s say you want to, you need somebody and you know, you’re one of your technical people who is difficult to work with, has said, Hey, we need to build a training dataset to fine tune a large language model.

And we don’t have the resources in house for this.

So we need to go find somebody.

And you don’t even know what questions to ask.

But then again, there’s a gazillion half folks who are all supposedly AI experts based on all the crap they post on LinkedIn.

How do you do that when you have just no domain expertise whatsoever? And it’s like, okay, well, where do I start? Well,

Katie Robbert 5:50

I mean, if your team isn’t giving you at least some background information of what they need, then you know, there’s a communication breakdown there.

But this is a lot of what I’ll be talking about this fall, when I talk about managing the people who manage the machines.

This is a common issue with managers, who have then just been given though, here’s a technical resource, good luck.

And so starting off with, never say, explain it to me, like on five or explain it to me, like I’m done.

That’s the worst possible thing you could do.

Because you are subconsciously planting the seed, that you are dumb, and you’re not you just have a different skill set.

So starting by asking questions have helped me understand why the approach that you’re taking is the best approach, or helped me understand why you didn’t try something different? Or what are the alternatives? Is this the most expensive approach? Is this the least expensive approach? What are some of the efficiencies with the approach that you’re taking, giving the other person the opportunity to explain in their words, and if you’re still running into that, then it’s okay to say, I’m really trying to understand, I need you to help explain it to me as if I’m buying the thing, or I’m the customer.

And so if you come across someone who just cannot articulate what it is that they’re doing in words, that are more understandable to someone who’s non technical, that, to me is a red flag, because that, to me, says that the person, they might know what they’re doing, but they’re not an expert in such that they have the experience working with a team or other people.

And that’s something that I’m looking for.

Christopher Penn 7:34

Gotcha, because I think you could make a case, there are plenty of people who are not only subject matter experts, but leaders in their field, who are terrible communicators, because that’s a separate skill set.

Katie Robbert 7:47

It is a separate skill set.

And leading and communicating are two different things.

And so if I’m So Chris, for example, and I apologize for picking on you, you’re not a great leader, in the sense of leading people, but you’re a good communicator in terms of helping me understand what I need to know about the technology.

So those are two different things.

And it’s something that you and I have worked at, in terms of how to build that communication.

And so I am 100% confident that you are an expert in the things that you do.

Because I understand the things that you do, because you were able to explain them to me in a way that I can then translate them for someone else, you know, so I can confidently say, Yes, Chris understands how large learning models work.

Here’s what he does with the large learning models, or Chris understands how Google Analytics works, here’s what he what he can do, because you’ve been able to show me, you know, on your computer, what it is that you’ve been able to tell me and teach me that, to me shows a level of expertise, versus someone who’s just really good at pushing a bunch of buttons, and hoping that something comes out with the end.

Christopher Penn 8:59

I liked that as as a proxy for expertise.

If you can teach it, then you at least know it well enough to teach it.

Katie Robbert 9:07

And you’re teaching it in a way that the person you’re teaching it to can then pick up the information, and then pass it along to someone else.

So it doesn’t have to be perfect.

Like, I can’t teach someone else how to fine tune a large learning model.

But I can guide them at least through the steps and get them prepared to do the work because of the information that you’ve taught to me.

And so I feel confident that the information that I’m passing along to them is correct.

Because of the way that you’ve been able to teach me what you know, that to me as an expert.

Christopher Penn 9:40

See, I would still argue that communication is separate from the subject matter expertise, like I know plenty of martial artists who are exceptional martial artists.

They are true experts.

They can’t teach the save their lives like they they should not be teaching anybody because they’re just bad at it.

Katie Robbert 9:55

But then, so let’s say this is true.

So let’s say In this example, you know, you have someone who’s really good at doing the thing, how you can’t hire that person? Because they don’t know.

Because how do you manage them? How do you know that what they’re doing is the correct thing.

So someone who does martial arts, you know, I know nothing about martial arts, they could do a bunch of flips, and grunts and kicks and punches, and it could look cool.

But it can be totally incorrect.

So how do I actually know they’re an expert, not a con artist, if I can’t communicate with them.

Christopher Penn 10:33

So you would you would make communication skills a requirement of expertise, regardless of the field?

Katie Robbert 10:40

I would.

And again, I communication is separate from leadership and management.

Personally, I feel like an expert should be able to explain their thing in such a way that someone who doesn’t understand their subject matter, understands it enough to feel confident that they could then pass along the information to someone else.

Christopher Penn 11:04



The one thing that I tend to look for your expertise is someone who knows what’s going to go wrong.

If you say, Hey, I’m about to do a supervised fine tune on solid stable of Hakuna.

And that person goes, well, have you already done? Have you already tried building a set of base prompts, to make sure the model is capable of that? I was just gonna go straight to that and be like, well, you know, that’s not a good idea.

Like you should verify the base model can actually do that first, before you go invest a lot of time and money in that thing.

Because if the base model can’t do that, you’re just gonna waste a whole bunch of time.

So that expert would, in in listening, knows what’s going to go wrong.

They know the mistakes that are going to happen.

Well in advance, and and if I have any brains, I will listen to set bursts and say, Okay, let me let me see if this person is experienced, like you talk about is validated, like, oh, yeah, I guess I should have done that before.

You know, I wasted a million dollars of CPU time trying to make this thing happen.

Just like, in more of our world, if, if, if I were to say, oh, you know, I’m gonna go set up Google Tag Manager with 14 different containers flow that everyone has their own view, and a Google Analytics extra go, you know, that’s probably not the most efficient way to do that.

It’s a big waste of time, maybe set up one Tag Manager container, instead of a property instead that has the different data streams based on what might be a more efficient way of doing that.

Now it’s up to me as the person doing it, say yes or no, but at least that expert has said, here’s probably what’s gonna go wrong.

Katie Robbert 12:51

How do you know that the person who’s questioning you is an expert, and not just a condescending jackass? Who always thinks that their way is the right way?

Christopher Penn 13:04

Sometimes those things co occur.

Katie Robbert 13:10

Well, you know, because as you’re describing it, so let’s just say for example, you know, I was practicing martial arts, and I was trying to throw a jab.

And so, you know, you know, Chris Penn comes along, it was like, you know, if you throw a jab like that, you’re gonna break your hand and not the other person’s jaw.

So, in that example, you’re saying that because you know that information, you are technically the expert.

But let’s say you also throw jab wrongs, and you’re teaching me the wrong thing.

How do I know that you’re not just condescending? The need to be right in that conversation?

Christopher Penn 13:49

You don’t you need to have some level of understanding of of what you’re doing, too.

And that’s one of the challenges with expertise.

That’s why I started off asking how do you deal with situations where you don’t have domain expertise? Because in that situation, yes, both people could be completely wrong doing it wrong.

And that’s where that experience and that demonstrate a track record does come in handy, right? If two people are throwing jabs and one of them, you know, holds a world Welterweight Championship, like, okay, the person who’s who’s gotten good results probably knows what they’re doing.

I would say if you have never won anything in in boxing and martial arts, they maybe maybe you’re there’s some there’s room for questioning as to whether that person actually knows what they’re doing.

I mean, we know plenty of people in the marketing space who have lots of fictitious case studies and can talk a really good game, but when you actually ask them all, how do you do this thing, or this is what is happening and it’s not working.

They they just come up totally empty.

Katie Robbert 14:58

And this is Where, to what we’re just talking about, I look for someone who can not only tell me but teach me.

And so in that example, I would want the person who is questioning or criticizing the way in which I throw a punch.

Okay, show me demonstrate to me, teach me how to effectively do this, not just like, and then you punch like this, like, show me actually demonstrate to me, show me an example of where your method is actually effective, versus the way that I’m doing it.

And so that, to me, is where that expertise in communication comes in.

Because there’s a lot of bullshit artists out there.

I mean, you know, you can’t count all of them.

And that’s exactly you need to be able to vet, especially if it’s something you don’t you personally don’t know a lot about.

You know, and so this may also be where, you know, you look at your, you know, trusted network and say, Who here knows more about this than me that could help me vet these experts.

And so going it alone, is probably not the best way to approach it.

That’s why when you are, you know, for better or worse, when you’re applying for a job, sometimes there’s a team of people who are interviewing you versus just one individual person.

That’s a whole separate topic that we could get into.

But, you know, if, Chris, if you said to me, we need to hire someone who can fine tune a large learning model, I would say, great, you need to be a part of this, let’s be clear about the roles and responsibilities during the hiring process.

But you as someone who understands the content, the subject matter needs to be a part of this.

And I as the person who understands hiring people also need to be part of this.

So it’s more of a team effort than an individual, you know, me trying to go it alone and figure it out?

Christopher Penn 16:52

Yeah, I think I would also argue in for the actual experts that I’ve met in my lifetime.

The folks who I respect as as being really capable, very few of them are condescending, very few of them are so insecure that they need to rub it in your face constantly.

i There are plenty of fake experts, who will trot out a whole bunch of things and you know, sort of walk around and beat you with all that puffery, but the actual, real experts don’t really feel the need to do that, like, they’ve got nothing left to prove, like you either know them or you don’t.

And if you don’t know them, that’s fine.

They don’t care.

They’re like, Okay, that’s cool.

But I always find the louder someone is about their own accomplishments, the less they actually,

Katie Robbert 17:44

there’s definitely something to that.

Because an expert is someone and someone who is truly an expert, the work tends to speak for itself, versus them trying to constantly convince you that they are an expert in something.

So I definitely think there’s something to that.

Now, there’s definitely, you know, there’s exceptions to every rule, there’s experts out there who are just condescending jerks.

But majority, you know, is that if someone’s an expert in something, they just tend to be that they don’t need to constantly yelled at in your face.

And so I think the other thing, too, and Chris, this goes, you know, sort of into the world of when we even talk about influencers, not who’s talking the loudest, but who’s being talked about the most.

And so if, you know, for example, you know, if somebody goes into community and says, Who can recommend someone who knows Google Analytics, you’re probably going to get a list of names.

But what is like the two or three names that keep coming up over and over and over again, there’s even looking at, you know, in face in local Facebook groups, when someone’s like, I’m looking for a contractor, you might get a list of 10 names, but of those 10 names, three of them are repeated a couple of times.

So that starts to become your shortlist of okay, let me look into these people first, because they’re known, people feel comfortable recommending them because clearly they liked the work that they do.

And now I can start to make the decision based on the information that I have so far that they at least, are knowledgeable in the field enough to be recommended by someone else.

Christopher Penn 19:22

So it’s funny.

When we look back at where we started with the GPT-4 models list of things, we’ve actually touched on most of these, and for the most part, you know, credentials and education experience published works, recognition by peers reputation and alignment with trusted sources.

It actually checks out.

Katie Robbert 19:47

It sounds surprising, I mean, the just because we’re using different words to describe the same things.

And so, at the end of the day, you want to make sure that it’s somebody that you would feel comfortable recommending to a friend because it’s not just their reputation, it’s your reputation.

You know, and we do this when we’re, you know, partnering with other agencies or referring other companies out.

It’s not just their reputation, it’s our reputation too.

And so we need to have known that they can do the work that they say they can do, so that when we recommend them, it doesn’t reflect poorly on us either.

And so there’s a lot of different levels of trust, that are built in there of, we trust that you know what you’re doing, we trust that you’re going to say that you trust, you’re gonna do what you what you say you’re going to do, we trust that you’re not going to be, you know, offensive, or you’re not going to flake out on the person or overcharge them.

So there’s a lot of things that go into it that have already been established by us recognizing that they are experts in the thing that they do.

Christopher Penn 20:50

And the wonderful thing about that is that in an environment now where we have less and less trust, in general, those networks, so that reputation is going to be even more important, because, you know, as as trust declines, and online sources in particular, that’s all pretty much anyone has left is that word of mouth,

Katie Robbert 21:13

I see more and more.

And again, sort of I go back to the example of like local Facebook communities, nothing to do with like the business that we do.

When someone is looking for a certain type of service, or you know, employee or something like that, the first thing they usually say is, well, I did a Google search.

But I want to know what the community has to say, because you’re absolutely right.

Anybody can put up, you know, a really good SEO optimized website.

But that doesn’t mean that they know what they’re doing.

That doesn’t mean that the case studies they have are valid.

And so you want to still have that word of mouth, that trusted peer that says Yes, Chris knows what he’s doing.

Yes, Katie won’t let you down when she says she’s going to do the work.

Christopher Penn 22:02

So when you are looking for an expert, I guess that take a look at that list of those six things and evaluate how much weight you put in each of them because I suspect it’s it’s not the same for everyone.

Everyone probably has different weights based on their own life experience.

You know, if you are someone who you had bad experiences and education, you might value credentials and education less than, say practical experience.

If you’re someone who has spent a lot of time in say academia, you probably value that more.

But all six of those categories do play a role in an expertise.

Be on the lookout for people who can communicate well.

Be on lookout for people who can teach well, and be on the lookout for people who can help you understand the mistakes that are going to happen before you make them and can offer helpful feedback before that’s the case.

If you’ve found some experts that you want to talk about, or you have questions about evaluating maybe an expert that you’re considering, why not pop over to our free slack group go to trust for marketers, where you have over 3000 other marketers are asking and answering each other’s questions every single day.

And wherever it is you watch or listen to the show.

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Thanks for tuning in, and we’ll talk to you next time.

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