Almost Timely News, February 19, 2023: The Buyer’s Guide to Expertise

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Almost Timely News: The Buyer's Guide to Expertise (2023-02-19)

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What’s On My Mind: The Buyer’s Guide to Expertise

This past week, a colleague on LinkedIn messaged me about an upcoming conference where someone who, in their perspective, was clearly unqualified to be giving a talk about AI was slated to present at an upcoming conference about AI – ChatGPT, specifically. This colleague’s rather pointed question was whether this bothered me or not (they referenced that a lot of crypto bros on LinkedIn were suddenly AI experts), and more generally, how could they know the difference between experts and people just hopping on the trend?

So today, let’s go through a buyer’s guide to expertise. How do you know who’s a real expert and who isn’t?

First, I think it’s important to draw a distinction – as Google does, in its Search Quality Rating Guidelines – between experience and expertise. Experience is something everyone can have, and whether or not we agree with someone’s experience, as long as they’re not outright lying about it, one person’s experience is equal to another’s. If I have a dinner at a restaurant and I love it, and you have dinner at the same restaurant – perhaps even at the same time as me – and you hate it, is either of our experiences invalid? No. We have had different experiences, but each is a valid point of view.

Now, here’s where we transition from experience to expertise. Suppose I am a Michelin-starred chef and you are not. Perhaps we’re at a sushi bar and I notice that the wasabi is actual, fresh wasabi. You, being someone who is not a trained sushi chef, might not know the difference between real, fresh wasabi and regular wasabi. As an aside, in America, 99.9% of wasabi is just colored horseradish. Real, fresh wasabi is sweeter, more pungent, and highly volatile. Once it’s been ground, it loses its potency in about an hour, which is why the best sushi restaurants serve you a chunk of the root and a grater and you grate your own right at the table.

Or perhaps we’re at a restaurant where pasta is being served and I, as a chef, can tell they used real truffle oil instead of synthetic truffle oil (real truffle oil, amusingly, doesn’t taste as strong as synthetic). That expertise might give me a different perspective on my experience, but I can also objectively say that this restaurant is a better restaurant than that restaurant because of their technical proficiency.

My technical expertise as a chef is separate from my experience as a diner, and that’s one major difference. Someone can be on stage talking about their experiences with AI, with large language models like ChatGPT, and their experiences are valid. But they may lack the technical expertise to go into great detail about it and ways to use it that align best with the underlying technical details of the model.

For example, a few weeks ago on the Trust Insights livestream, we walked through the underlying algorithms that power Twitter and LinkedIn, and in the process disabused a few myths about how they work. (feel free to use as many hashtags as you want, for example, it makes no difference one way or another) By understanding the way the system works, we can craft advice and counsel that goes beyond experience and into expertise.

Experience is what happened to you. Expertise is knowing why you had those experiences.

A second dimension of real expertise is something I learned from my martial arts teachers, especially Mark Davis and Stephen Hayes. Someone who is a legitimate expert knows the material, obviously. They understand it in a deep way. But what they have that separates them from others is they know what will go wrong before it happens. When you’re learning a martial arts technique, you can copy the rote movements from just about anyone. You can watch videos on YouTube to copy the movements like a robot. What you can’t learn without an expert teacher is all the ways that technique will go wrong, and a true master practitioner, a master teacher, will teach you and train you in all those ways a technique will go wrong so that you’re never surprised when something does go wrong.

For example, in Google Analytics 4, Google supposedly switched to an event-based model as its foundational measurement strategy, and that’s more or less true. If you read the official documentation and all the tutorials out there, you’ll learn about the event model and how events are the most granular measurement, and with events you can measure everything.

However, I can tell you with certainty that there are certain reports your stakeholders will ask you for that you absolutely cannot build in Google Analytics 4 because there are still scoping issues. You can’t use events and the month dimension together because they’re incompatible (you have to use the date dimension instead). You cannot use the datetime dimension with events either, which is really annoying when you’re trying to build a granular attribution model. These are intricate technical gotchas that you only know from both experience and expertise.

In the context of something like ChatGPT, if you understand how large language models work – the attention algorithm – and you understand how embeddings and vectorization and a bunch of other arcane technical details inform those models, then when someone’s ChatGPT prompt doesn’t return what they want it to return, you can diagnose their prompt with efficiency and help them get on the right track very quickly.

This is where expertise and experience diverge significantly. You can have a bunch of experiences with something but still not know why things went badly. You might know what to avoid, but you have no idea what the root cause is, only that there are certain things to do and certain things to avoid. Someone with true expertise can tell you why you had those suboptimal outcomes.

A third dimension of real expertise is your network. You don’t have to know everything, and in reality, you can’t know everything except maybe in a very tiny slice of the subject matter, in a really detailed specialization. But the network of people around you who are also professionals in your area of expertise can probably fill in the blanks. They know who to go to – you – for your specialization, and you know who to go to when you need their specialization. For example, I know a casual amount of information about AI and law. My friend and colleague Ruth Carter is an actual expert in AI law, and they even have a law practice around it.

So when you’re trying to evaluate whether someone’s an expert in something, ask who else knows them as an expert, and what they’re known for. If you see someone, as my colleague did, on stage talking about AI but their entire network knows them for misadventures with Bitcoin, then chances are they don’t have a ton of acknowledged expertise in AI. As my friend Mitch Joel says, it’s not who you know that matters – it’s who knows you.

That’s the buyer’s guide to expertise:

  • Deep knowledge of why in addition to what and how based on technical principles
  • Knowing what will go wrong in advance
  • Being known for your expertise

If you’re unsure of someone, these are the three areas to start digging in to establish or discredit their expertise. Chances are you will dig into any one of these areas and establish very quickly whether someone is an actual expert or not.

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ICYMI: In Case You Missed it

Besides the newly-refreshed Google Analytics 4 course I’m relentlessly promoting (sorry not sorry), I definitely recommend the piece on the value of content marketing in an age of AI.

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These are just a few of the classes I have available over at the Trust Insights website that you can take.



Get Back to Work

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What I’m Reading: Your Stuff

Let’s look at the most interesting content from around the web on topics you care about, some of which you might have even written.

Social Media Marketing

Media and Content

SEO, Google, and Paid Media

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Tools, Machine Learning, and AI

Analytics, Stats, and Data Science

Dealer’s Choice : Random Stuff

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How to Stay in Touch

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Events I’ll Be At

Here’s where I’m speaking and attending. Say hi if you’re at an event also:

  • PodCamp Philly, Philadelphia, March 2023
  • Martechopia, London, March 2023. Use MARSPEAKER20 for 20% off the ticket price.
  • B2B Ignite, Chicago, May 2023

Events marked with a physical location may become virtual if conditions and safety warrant it.

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Required Disclosures

Events with links have purchased sponsorships in this newsletter and as a result, I receive direct financial compensation for promoting them.

Advertisements in this newsletter have paid to be promoted, and as a result, I receive direct financial compensation for promoting them.

My company, Trust Insights, maintains business partnerships with companies including, but not limited to, IBM, Cisco Systems, Amazon, Talkwalker, MarketingProfs, MarketMuse, Agorapulse, Hubspot, Informa, Demandbase, The Marketing AI Institute, and others. While links shared from partners are not explicit endorsements, nor do they directly financially benefit Trust Insights, a commercial relationship exists for which Trust Insights may receive indirect financial benefit, and thus I may receive indirect financial benefit from them as well.

Thank You

Thanks for subscribing and reading this far. I appreciate it. As always, thank you for your support, your attention, and your kindness.

See you next week,

Christopher S. Penn

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