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You and I have been victims of numerous false, urban legends. So please beware of overconfident subject matter experts. For example:

  • The Great Wall of China is NOT visible from outer space
  • You use a lot more than ten percent of your brain
  • Relatively speaking, it’s much safer to take candy from strangers than from family members. Statistically, family members are more likely than strangers to poison others.

Cognitive biases receive much press because they negatively impact decision quality. Subject matter experts (ie, SMEs) are frequent victims of an “availability” bias that causes them to be over-confident, and perhaps wrong. Challenge overconfident subject matter experts with a “hip-pocket” tool, something you carry with you at all times.


When delivered face-to-face, people treat information as more credible and will more likely refer to it. Participants are frequently impressed by the charisma of the deliverer rather than the value of the information.

Subject matter experts tend to overestimate their contributions that are produced jointly with others. Thus, they overestimate the importance of their contributions, and close themselves off from the possibility of other “right” answers.

For example, two people eating the same bowl of chili will react differently. One may claim the chili is “hot” (ie, spicy) while the other claims it is “not”. Both are right, so we might appeal to Scoville Units to “objectify” their claims.


Be prepared to demonstrate that SMEs may have “an” answer, but not the only answer. Humble overconfident subject matter experts with a host of “hip-pocket” challenges. Demonstrate that their answer may be sub-optimal (or even wrong) and that voting is a poor method of decision-making. The Bookworm’s Travels, one of our personal favorites, represents one of but hundreds of similar exercises used to shake paradigms.

Solve the question yourself. You will need to write us for the correct answer but we can assure you that the correct answer is not “23.” Keep in mind that these are English books, written from left to right, and stacked in proper sequence, from Volume One through Volume Four, vertically.

Beware of Overconfident Subject Matter Experts, and be Prepared to Challenge

Test Overconfident Subject Matter Experts with a Bookworm’s Travels


Don’t ruin your career or reputation with bad meetings. Register for a class or forward this to someone who should. Taught by world-class instructors, MG RUSH  professional facilitation curriculum focuses on practice. Each student thoroughly practices and rehearses tools, methods, and approaches throughout the week. While some call this immersion, we call it the road to building impactful facilitation skills.

Our courses also provide an excellent way to earn up to 40 SEUs from the Scrum Alliance, 40 PDUs from PMI, and 40 CDUs from IIBA, as well as 3.2 CEUs for other professions. (See individual class descriptions for details.)

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Facilitation Expert

Terrence Metz, CSM, PSPO, CSPF, is the Managing Director of MG RUSH Facilitation Training and Coaching, the acknowledged leader in structured facilitation training. His FAST Facilitation Best Practices blog features over 300 articles on facilitation skills and tools aimed at helping others lead faster, more productive meetings and workshops that yield higher quality decisions. His clients include Agilists, Scrum teams, program and project managers, senior officers, and the business analyst community among numerous private and public companies and global corporations. As an undergraduate of Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) and MBA graduate from NWU’s Kellogg School of Management, his professional experience has focused on process improvement and product development. He continually aspires to make it easier for others to succeed.

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