Ahhhhh, Smeeze!

March 10, 2020

Ahhhhh, Smeeze!

May 29, 2023

I was recently introduced to the word “Smeeze,” as in Subject Matter Experts (SME’s). I was talking to a doctor friend of mine in Seattle, who now works for Amazon (she said with a chuckle, “Someday, we’ll all work for Amazon”).

This doctor, now in her fifties, was hired along with a bunch of other SME’s (experienced doctors) to help Amazon create an on-demand telemedicine service. It sounds like a perfectly fine idea, right?

However, just as I found at Airbnb, many disruptive tech companies have a Holy Trinity of young product folks leading their initiatives (a product manager, engineer, and designer). In most cases, this product team doesn’t listen much to the Smeeze, partly because there’s a two- or three-decade age difference, coupled with a sense that the younger know better. Or, as Mark Zuckerberg said in his twenties, “Young people are just smarter.”

On occasion, that may be true. And maybe older people are just wiser. I know at Airbnb, some of my value was in pointing out the “know-how” and “know-who” of the travel industry, since that was the disruptive landscape where Airbnb lived. I’ll never forget when the young CEO, Brian Chesky, said to me a few months into the job, “We hired you for your knowledge, but what we really got was your wisdom.” Over the next few months, he asked me to head up our Corporate Strategy because he liked how my mind “connected the dots.” Later on, he asked me to create a Learning & Development function because he said I knew “how to create young leaders.” After that, I oversaw the Business Development team because “those young bucks need a wise entrepreneur to channel their thinking.”

In short, don’t sneeze at the Smeeze! Yes, they have subject matter expertise that can create “invisible productivity” in helping everyone around them get better. But they may also offer some serious emotional intelligence and life wisdom that could empower any young team.

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