An expert versus a chauffeur (Part 3 of 3)

In this series of posts I’m exploring the difference between an expert and someone who is just regurgitating what they have heard or read in relation to those who train on all aspects of ‘change’.

In the first post I shared a story about Max Planck and his chauffeur to highlight the fact we have two kinds of knowledge. In the second post I talked more about this distinction and introduced the idea of the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.

So know you’ve got the difference, how do you know it’s Planck standing in front of you, not his chauffeur? Here are my five tips for knowing it’s the expert not the chauffeur.


Real knowledge comes when people do the work. If people have done the work they’ll have a number of personal stories they’ll be able to tell about it.

Picture this. An expert is teaching about how best to run an Impact Assessment. They might talk through the purpose of it, the steps you go through to complete one, and how best to present the findings. But the real value they’d bring would be in sharing their stories about doing an Impact Assessment in the real world.

  • “But, what do you do if your Project Manager and Sponsor see no value in doing an Impact Assessment? I had that on project ‘x’ and what I did instead was…”
  • “What do you do if you only have a 2 hour workshop to do an Impact Assessment that should take a week? I faced that a few years ago, and what I did was…”
  • “A lot of people involved in an Impact Assessment don’t want to be there or agree with what you’ll doing.  How do you overcome their reluctance to get involved? Let me give you a couple of examples of things I’ve tried in the past?”

The chauffeur will stop at the first part, and won’t share examples of how you deal with the constraints that exist in the real world. How could they? They’ve never done it. If they do share stories they’ll either be of the one project they did 10 years ago, or stories about what other people or companies have done – not their own.


An expert will avoid jargon and corporate bs. If they do need to use terms that may be unfamiliar to the audience they explain what they are in simple language or through analogies or metaphors that help people’s understanding.

Chauffeur’s will regurgitate what is in the manual, or what they’ve read. If they do try and explain a concept or a technical term they’ll do it with more jargon which does little to aid in understanding. They’ll talk in cliches, abstractions and deliberate vagueness. They’ll use terms like VUCA to describe the changing world we are facing in organisations, and no one will be any the wiser what it is, or what it means afterwards.


Experts are aware that everything is context specific. What you might do depends on a whole range of factors.

A good friend who was working in a bank here in Australia, was looking to improve the sales of their branch staff (as is every bank in the world!). One of the things they did was find the staff who were most successful in selling additional products to customers and recorded them answering a series of questions about what they did to make more sales. What they found was that a lot of the time they’d start to answer the question with “It depends“.

So, the question may have been: “What do you do first when a customer walks in to increase the chances you can make a sale with them?” They would answer something like: “Well it depends. If its 10 a.m. on a Tuesday morning and the branch is quiet I might do ‘a’, ‘b’ our ‘c’ but if it’s 15 minutes before closing on Friday, I’d do ‘x’, ‘y’ and ‘z’.“What they did was context specific.

The chauffeur will see the world in black and white. There is the ‘right’ way of doing things, because that is the next step is in the process.  They will not be able to articulate why it would be “a’ in some situations in ‘z’ in others.


Experts are comfortable in admitting what they don’t know. As Rolf Dobelli author of The Art of Thinking Clearly says:

True experts recognize the limits of what they know and what they do not know. If they find themselves outside their circle of competence, they keep quiet or simply say, “I don’t know.” This they utter unapologetically, even with a certain pride.

From chauffeurs, we hear everything except this.


Experts are able to show you how, through their experiences, they have learnt what works in what context and what doesn’t. They will admit their mistakes, and be able to tell you a success story that contains all the great things they did, and the mistakes they made along the way.

If Planck’s chauffeur had to present the lecture in another city, his only learning would be about how he could do the lecture better. He would not be able to explain, and show what he has learnt about quantum mechanics, and how this has changed over time . Only Planck, the expert, would have been able to do this.

Summing it up

If the person standing in front of you isn’t doing most, or all of these things, then you should reconsider your strategy about learning to deliver better change. Otherwise you’re going to have a whole heap of knowledge which is fundamentally ‘True But Useless‘.

For those people responsible for organising training on change, ensure you find the balance between those people who are experts on learning, course design and facilitation and those people who are experts on actually delivering change.

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