Monday, June 10, 2019

Is Your Content Generalizable?

I attend a fair number of education programs and, as a result, listen to a fair number of speakers and presentations. Sometimes, the most rewarding kind of speaker is someone from outside my industry, speaking on how they address and solve challenges in their industry. I can often find nuggets of wisdom or new ways of approaching my own challenges by listening to these kind of speakers. Innovation frequently comes, after all, straight out of these attempts at cross-fertilization.

To make this kind of thing work, however, it is important for both the speaker and the participant to understand which parts of the presentation are generalizable and which are not.

Let's say you're listening to a presentation from a speaker outside your industry. She's talking about a common problem -- something facing organizations of all types in all industries -- and she's presenting a case study of her own business. When faced with X, my company does Y.

You recognize X as the common problem that it is, but you also realize that Y won't work in your organization or perhaps in your industry. It relies on a resource or a tactic that you don't have access to. Let's call that resource or tactic Z. So you ask the presenter a question. Let's assume you don't have access to Z, and therefore can't use Y as a solution to X. What do you do then?

You're essentially looking for the speaker the generalize her strategy. To step up and out of the specifics of her own situation, and help you tackle the challenge you actually face from a fresh perspective.

In my experience, some speakers can do this and some can't. Some will accept the challenge you've given them and start brainstorming with you. Don't have Z? Hmmm. Then you can't do Y. In that situation, I would probably do A, or maybe B. In this situation, A and B are the nuggets of gold you're looking for, potentially new ways of tackling difficult problems in your industry.

But some will retrench on Y. They can't generalize. They are so myopically focused on their own situation and the solutions they've created that they'll simply reject, perhaps unconsciously, the premise of your question. They'll start talking about Y again. Even though you've told them Y is impractical in your space, it's so practical in theirs that they won't be able to abandon it.

Whenever this happens, I usually find myself asking if the speaker in question really understands her own content, or the audience she is speaking to. Her purpose in speaking, after all, is not to just relay information, but to teach me something new.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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