Working with SMEs in a Vacuum


I occasionally hear from readers of my blog or the books who are out there working with experts in every imaginable field and type of industry. You are all out there, gathering information for training, for organizational continuity, and just “for the record”.

Some of you, it seems, feel like you are working in a vacuum. You are trying to figure out what to capture, who and where to gather your institutional knowledge and how to store it. And people are doing amazing jobs. I am always fascinated to hear the breadth and depth of the kinds of work you are doing, and who you are doing it for. Global companies. Governments. Non-profits.

Experts in a Vacuum

I have found two types of vacuums when working with experts. One is the person or people tasked with collecting knowledge who are feeling like they are inventing processes from the ground up. (Actually, you are in many ways because of the unique nature of many of your situations.)

The other type of vacuum is when you are working with an expert in a field of their own. Sometimes experts really are the only ones who know exactly how something is done that is particular to your need. And that kind of vacuum can be daunting for people gathering information for a few reasons:

  1. You only have one source of information – your expert
  2. You have nothing to backstop you on the veracity of the information
  3. The people around the expert – and there are always people around the expert – may have alternative viewpoints or a completely different view of reality and you either a) don’t have access to them/don’t know they exist or b) can’t bypass the expert to check reality against the people around them.

If the last few paragraphs seem a bit arcane to you, they don’t relate to your situation so not to worry.

But if the last few paragraphs have hit a nerve with you, you understand the discomfort of working with experts in a vacuum. Even under the best circumstances, with good access and relationship, there are pieces you just don’t know and may never be able to pressure test against reality.

If you are working in a vacuum, don’t worry. You aren’t the only one. You are doing the best you can. Your work is appreciated or will be by those who come after you. And, if you are lucky, your work is also appreciated by the expert you are getting to know.

Do you ever feel like you are working in a vacuum?


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *