subject matter networks

“I think the singular SME is an antiquated a notion as the solitary game player & our development pipelines need to change.” writes Mark Oehlert, on Twitter. Mark coined the term, subject matter networks, as a change from the industrial concept of subject matter expert, or SME, a term I first heard in the military in the mid-1970’s. But the world has changed and most notably during the past decade.

Image: Clark Quinn

We have become connected

With all of these connections, complexity ensues. Markets in Asia can have an impact on a local grocer. The release of not-so-secret diplomatic cables influence events like the Arab Spring.

In a complex world the optimal social form is the multi-organizational network and emergent practices must be continuously developed through cooperation. In such an environment, the lone expert is at a disadvantage. He or she cannot learn and adapt as fast as a cooperative network.

So the critical skills for people formerly known as SME’s are how to become contributing members of subject matter networks. Part of this is in narrating one’s work and learning. I have called personal knowledge mastery (PKM) – our part of the social learning contract. One cannot be effective in professional networks without contributing. Subject matter networks are made up of many contributors. A key skill is in weaving the best networks together.

We collectively realized before forming the Internet Time Alliance that we were much less effective on our own than working cooperatively. Based on the feedback and interest from many people over the  past year, I think we will see more cooperative alliances created. Part of our advantage is the ability to bring many subject matter networks together.

3 Responses to “subject matter networks”

  1. Mark Oehlert

    Well said sir! Now all we have to do is change org design and ISD curricula to adopt.

  2. Amir Elion

    Hi Harold.
    Thank you for this interesting post and for making me think of this new perspective on SMEs.
    Indeed, I think it is time for us to rethink many of our perceptions and practices.
    Keep writing interesting stuff. I am certain many see you as a valuable part of their subject matter network 🙂



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