Subject matter experts or SMEs.
If you are one, you likely know others in your field who share your knowledge base. Your contemporaries might be well-known and respected superstars with tenure and a massive fan-base, or they may be junior staff with few connections who are thirsty for mentoring, or, perhaps, they are somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. In any case, being a SME, in whatever your industry, can surface feelings of competition with those who play in your sandbox.
Whether we are competing for a cut of the annual allocated wage increase for our department, or vying for the same potential client, our fellow SMEs might induce us to step up our game and polish our natty ways. And that’s healthy. We should always try to be our best selves, right?
I appreciate that not everyone feels this way.
During a recent networking event, I suggested that I’d like to connect a SME with another in their area of expertise – I’ll call them Chris. Chris and the other SME both facilitate training, have similar participants in their audiences, work in the same geographic area, and generally have a lot in common. I was greeted with slight trepidation as this professional in front of me hesitated, citing uncertainty at the notion of connecting them with a perceived competitor. Chris and I talked it through.
Here’s my take.
We all know our stuff. Some at breadth, others depth, often with varying degrees of both. It is not uncommon to feel threatened in the presence of awesomeness – especially if that person is also a guru in your sphere, confident in their abilities, winsome in personality, and generally loved by everyone they meet.
But guess what. No matter how many amazing qualities you possess, no matter how hard you work, no matter how many certificates or degrees or ‘friends’ or followers, there will always be someone to learn from and there will always be someone to whom you can teach.
And there will always be someone with whom we feel is competing for the same job, same position, same client, same audience. And we may not like that, but feeling something and acting in a certain way are two different things.
Our instinctive impulses and our emotions can have a profound effect on our ability to be impartial and objective, eh? We have a vested interest in our own success and have this notion that, if in the presence of a competitor, only one can win.
I don’t think it’s that simple.
Yes, if two people are competing for the same job, it would appear that only one candidate will be successful in getting hired. I get it. But, is there only one job for you…ever? Are jobs and contracts and clients and participants finite and predetermined? If we get passed over for one opportunity, does that mean we will not be successful in landing subsequent deals? Of course not.
We are charmed by the opportunities that pique our interest and lured by the potential rewards they offer. For some, this can be blinding to the point of envious behaviours and begrudging others of their success. That employer or client who chose them over you might have done so based on ‘fit’ or personality or some other factor completely unrelated to your subject matter expertise – even if the recruitment or vetting process aims to minimize those factors. We are emotional beings with gut reactions that are sometimes not ignored.
The antithesis of this viewpoint is that our perceived competition might actually, in the grander scheme, be our best ally. The people we view as our adversary could be the person who tosses the next opportunity our way. That may happen because they are too busy to take on a new client, because their interest lies in a very specific type of work, because…frankly, the reasons don’t matter.
We should be viewing our coterie as just that – a tribe of likeminded people who band together to prop each other up. There is enough room in the sandbox for all of us. There are a bazillion other folks who wear my type of hat, helping others succeed in various forms. Do I want to win over every single one of their clients? I can, in all honesty, say no to that. For a number of reasons. First, I’m not greedy. Second, that's not playing fair. Third, I have worked hard to find my niche, a place where I believe I can have the greatest impact and from where I can reap the most gratification. And that place is helping professionals and executives present their subject matter expertise well by sharing practical tips, and shiftED does that in a few ways. Will I suggest to a potential client that they ought to partner up with another provider, rather than shiftED? Sure, if I believe it is in their best interest.
There is enough work for all of us. And if others make us work harder and be better than we were yesterday, I’m all for it.
Did I introduce Chris to their ally? You bet I did, and they were delighted. I connected them, and I bridged the connection between at least a dozen other SMEs this past week too. And I will continue to do that where I see value. Perhaps we would all do better if we shifted away from viewing each other as rivals and, instead, elevated each other’s awesomeness.
- Tisha Parker Kemp