The Sisyphean struggle of being an explainer in 2023 is causing burn-out

Myles Younger

Myles Younger / Head of innovation and insights at U of Digital

Being an explainer is a side hustle that doesn’t scale

There’s no such role as a chief explainer person. It’s a side hustle. It falls haphazardly into the laps of certain people whose superpowers are curiosity and turning complex topics into simple explanations. If there were an Explainer Olympics, it would be judged based on the number of open browser tabs.

In many scenarios, the explainer side hustle pulls valuable talent away from their full-time jobs. An internal subject matter expert’s time is often costly–easily ranging into the thousands of dollars per hour for folks like senior product leaders. All those last-minute ‘Hey, can you join this client call?’ Slacks add up. If you’re measuring the cost of relying on your explainers, you’ll discover that the organization is stealing from its count.

But stealing from your headcount is only part of the problem. Unlike other roles and teams, explainers don’t scale. Our deliverables are too ad hoc, reactive, and informal to grow with the business. And because we aren’t growing with the business, we’re inevitably overmatched by an ecosystem that’s moving faster and becoming more complex daily.

Explainers have the ‘least dumb’ answer

Sometimes, the explainer lacks subject matter expertise but jumps in any way because nobody wants to hear “I don’t know.” When explainers wander outside their subject matter expertise, their answers may be better than anything else inside the company, but the “least dumb” internal answer isn’t the same thing as the right answer.

(If you’re an explainer with a few battle scars, you’ve straight-up copied stuff off Google to satisfy your organization’s voracious appetite for answers.)

The explainer is a crutch

Every organization, no matter the size, has its explainers. We keep the train moving, at least in the short run. But while that may look like a win in the short term – we got the answer without having to spend any money – explainers become a crutch for everyone else over the long run. ‘Why learn something new,’ everyone else wonders, ‘when you can just ask the explainer?’

That mentality hinders professional development. And when that mentality spreads across company culture, knowledge gaps become big organizational blind spots. Over time, explainers make learning more difficult inside the organization because they unwittingly contribute to a culture where the knowledge gaps get bigger. Not enough people are willing or able to step into those gaps.

Myles Younger

Myles Younger / Head of innovation and insights at U of Digital

This post by Myles Younger was originally featured in The Drum.

Myles Younger, head of innovation and insights at U of Digital, is an ‘explainer.’ It’s *almost* a thankless task. He… explains… why here.

While it doesn’t say “explainer” on my resume, maybe it should. Over twenty-ish years, I’ve held many roles in digital advertising, media, and marketing, but I always wear the same explainer hat. Whenever something new and complex arrives on the scene–these days, that’s clean rooms, identity, CTV, and increasingly, AI, I’m one of those people that colleagues turn to for clarification. If you’re one of those people, you know what I’m talking about.

It’s gratifying to be in demand, but I must confess something: Explainers are insufficient.

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