Tag Archives: Expertise

Lead with Training? Look beyond the recipe

15 May

I’ve seen it time and time again. An organization has a new technology, often joined with a new process and vision for processing, customer service, data alignment, sales, etc. The knock comes on L & D’s door, and we are thrilled to be able to get in on a new initiative without the baggage of poor performance leading the request.

But just as we should pause and assess if training is the part of the solution to substandard performance or a new change initiative, we need to also pause to think about the appropriate timing and type of training that will advance the strategy initiative. While it might seem counter-intuitive to those of us in the instructional design and training game, we need to think about training as an essential element in the organizational kitchen remodel — a part of a well-designed program, but not the driver.

OK, I’m not entirely sure a kitchen is the best analogy, but let that marinate with me for a moment. A kitchen needs a workflow plan, a place to store fresh and nonperishable items, ample space to store tools and cooking utensils, and a set of good cook books (explicit knowledge), at least until the cook moves through competence and proficiency to become an expert intuitive gastro-artist (implicit knowledge).

So, training can carry the novice cook along the path to competence, and even proficiency. However, if the goal is to build expertise, training can’t carry the load the full distance. Similarly, the training program, no matter how well designed and implemented, can’t deliver the tools, materials and setup necessary to get the anticipated results.

Cathy Moore has done some excellent work on how to evaluate the need for training to address performance issues. But what I’m suggesting here is to take that to another elevation: Even when training is part of the issue, are the conditions for applicable success present? Seen this way, each training design should be a mini (or full-blown) change management program. Per standard practice of change management, skills are an essential ingredient. But so too are organizational support, vision and incentives to follow through.

complex change matrix

Complex Change Management Matrix

So, if you are already in the discussion that Moore (and I) suggests, take it to the next logical step: How does training fit into the change the organization wishes to see?

We don’t spend the money to build a beautiful kitchen without the hope that we’ll become better cooks. But design and appliances don’t get us there. Neither will skills alone without the proper tools and support for experimentation, failure and improvement.

Gold from Straw: Creating Your Own Meaning

27 Oct

Personal learning is a form of assembly, where we find, evaluate, use or discard things we encounter on our way. More often than not, though. we won’t know the meaning of what we discover until long after the fact. Over time, with experience, we’re able to create meaning of (from?) objects, assembling them into applicable learned compounds.

Ah, but what to pick up? We are awash with information, opinions and competing ideas. Through traditional media, social media, conversations, meetings, directives…. we live in an age of overabundance. In prior times information was scarce, and we looked to authority to provide us what was valuable:

I read it in the Times.” “Our CEO thinks that we should redirect our efforts.” “My trusted financial adviser recommended I put my money into tech.” “My mentor said this book was important.” “I ask my assistant to provide me with daily clippings.” Information was scarce, and we looked to those with expertise, time, and the resources to research and bring us information we could use.

Those days are done. We create our own meaning now. We divine it out of the countless dots – the nodes in our network of people, ideas and information – that fill our universe.

Like ancient explorers, we connect dots and create patterns in order to navigate through our world.

Like ancient explorers, we connect dots and create patterns in order to navigate through our world. Photo by Greg Rakozy via unsplash.com.

The solution becomes not one of knowing what is useful, but of deciding what to pay attention to, and weighing whatever we find for its potential value.  There is no way to pre-sort what is worthy; there is simply too much out there and exponentially more being created all the time. Like the scroll at the bottom of a 24-hour news station, we barely notice it’s there. When something catches our attention, we have that “Wait! What was that?!” moment. It’s much the same to navigate through our connected, networked world. Something catches our attention, and we make an immediate judgement: This is something I should pay attention to, something I might be able to use at some point. Or not… let it pass.

The decision is the key. Yes, I like this idea. This is new to me and sparks my interest. This is from a known source that I already trust, so I’m willing to give it a little more attention than I might otherwise. Once a decision is made, apply your process.

  1. Clip, copy, save, share it, while tagging in some way that you’ll be able to find it later (that takes practice, but you’ll get better at it with time).

  2. Note why you thought it was worthy of carrying with you on your journey: That is a critical part of it, and will inform and refine your knowledge management practice over time.

  3. Weigh it for its value over time. Does the idea make sense? Does it add, extend, amplify or purposefully redirect what I do and what I know?

  4. Cull frequently, letting go of what it no longer useful.

By following this process, you’ll create your own meaning, and build your own unique area of expertise that is yours alone. That is an exciting proposition. When each of us is self-directed to build our own knowledge, to create our own Personal Knowledge Mastery (PKM), we bring a unique perspective and ability to any organization’s collaborative or cooperative effort. That is a valuable place to be.

Expertise and Novelty: Taking action when facing the unknown

12 Jun

I have come to rely on and enjoy several regularly occurring Twitterstorms (or chats, or flurries – there are several terms I’ve seen applied). Last month I was particularly drawn to one of my favorite events, #lrnchat (“learn chat”), which centered on the idea of expertise. And, while I was unable to participate in real time–I was in Japan at the time–one of the beauties of the Twitterstorm is that it lives on for all to return to even if someone is unable to participate live. Indeed, it is one of the greatest things about our digital-social learning age that the lines between “live” events and persistent online conversation are blurred. It’s easy to find the transcript of the May 21, 2015, #lrnchat session, and there is nothing that prevents me from adding to it and responding to particular comments or questions long after the storm has passed.

The topic of expertise and authority relates to a post I wrote a few weeks ago in which I used chess as a paradigm for understanding and applying principles in novel situations. And I got to thinking: That is the essence of expertise.

An expert is not someone who is able to replicate (even) complex tasks as a result of practice and repetition. An expert is someone who can draw on what they’ve gained from practice and repetition as it applies to unexpected situations and complex problems that have either not been tackled before or that, through creative insight, are wholly new ideas to test.

So, what does expertise entail?

Right. As Harold Jarche, Jane Hart, and others have written recently, as we move to a workplace where machines perform most routine tasks, expertise will be the essential skill for tackling the remainder: complexity, novelty, inference, and creativity.

Which brings us back to chess (or poker, or tennis, or sailing, or just about any domain you can think of). What is an expert player? Expertise is not about mastering and executing complex moves. I can learn how to perform backward pawn structure or the double fork attack, but that won’t make me an expert. Expertise is knowing when to perform these tactics given the novelty of every chess situation. An expert is comfortable with experimentation and creativity, failure and success, experimentation and continuous learning. An expert has insight into a problem that eludes others. Expertise, then, is more akin to a sage or guru.

Therein lies our challenge: How do we build organizations of sages, gurus and visionaries? The second salient answer to emerge from the #lrnchat session gets us a good distance down that road. In the digital world, our networks are repositories on which to draw expertise and our digital skills bring the gurus down from the mountain top to be accessible to all:

Earlier this year, Dion Hinchcliffe outlined a set of essential digital workforce skills, and among them were PKM (Personal Knowledge Mastery), transparency and “working out loud” – all part of building and sharing expertise. In short, it is incumbent that modern workers/learners concentrate of building personal expertise in their field, with a mindset that values deep understanding over a particular set of skills. Acting decisively in the void of the unknown is the essence of expertise.

Authority rests now with those who can lead with expertise and generosity, and who freely share without hesitation or expectation of immediate return. The question becomes, in what domain(s) are you building your expertise? And, how are you sharing it?

Moving from SMEs to LMPs: Learning Matter Practitioners.

13 Jan

There are countless resources on how to work with subject matter experts (SMEs). How to get the information you need from them. How to get their buy-in. How to negotiate what’s learning content from organized resources. How to help your SMEs understand how instructional designers do our jobs, and why. This battle for cooperation, if not partnership, with SMEs has been well-worn topic for a long time.

But in this new world of building learning landscapes and personal knowledge management (PKM) (what I call The Learning Age), we’d be better off if we approach the problem in a new way.

SMEs are just another node in a networked world/workplace. Let's work to integrate their expertise to be available to all.

SMEs are just another node in a networked world/workplace that includes data, workers and support systems. Let’s work to integrate their expertise to be available to all. 

Perhaps instead of wrangling content, divining applicable knowledge from content, and support information from noise, we should spend more time inviting SMEs into the world of networked learning. The days of heading to the mountain top to receive golden nuggets are over. Content is everywhere, information can be found—or at least should be able to be found—easily. Our SME is not the font of content, or knowledge, but of experience. That is, how the knowledge is applied effectively, efficiently, and with 360° understanding of the context.

In other words, we need to train our SMEs to become LMPs—learning matter practitioners. Not that they need to be great teachers or steeped in instructional design, but they do need to be taught how to share their work (WOL, work out loud!), deliver insights in useful, accessible ways, and be available to people across their organization and (perhaps) industry. If SMEs don’t document, share, comment, tweet, blog, and visit with others, then that is an area for learning practitioners to invest time and programming dollars.

This may require that most daring of high-wire acts, the change in workplace culture. Spoiler: The change is happening under our feet anyway. Let’s invite even the most siloed SME to join the emerging networked workplace.

Some now claim that 81% of workplace learners are responsible for managing their own professional development (PD), and 91% expect technology to enable quicker responses to learning/change conditions. Whatever the actual numbers may be, the trend toward individually initiated PD is clear. Whether SMEs know it or not, or are resistant or not, “traditional” SME status will only be as elevated as their ability to integrate hard-won experience into the dynamic, shape-shifting network of the modern workplace. Now that is a learning challenge for us to dig our hands into.

Leveraging expertise… and vanity

3 Apr

In reading about online learning communities, Communities of Practice, and the trend in social/informal e-learning, the common theme appears time and again: How can we make it sticky? How do we engage learners to take charge of their own learning, share it across organizations, locations, and technologies to create the kind of online learning community that is engaging, self-motivating and (most of all!) enduring?

It seems to me – and my thinking is constantly evolving on this, so forgive me if I contradict myself in a week’s time – that to build the scaffolding onto which a online learning community might take hold relies on two human dimensions.

First, insight. If a learner feels that what she does, what she knows, is solely wrapped up in their job function, she may have little reason to believe that what she has to share would be of any interest or consequence to others. What she lacks is the insight that her knowledge may be broadly applicable to a wide variety of potential learner/collaborators in dissimilar or even completely unrelated functions. She’s trapped in a silo and can’t see out.

The second dimension is vanity – in a good way. If a learner feels like he is an expert and couples that with pride (ego?) to share that expertise, that creates the backbone of social learning. Vanity here manifests as the confidence that others can benefit from what he knows.

The thing is, under the right circumstances, most everybody loves to be an expert.


If you are working to support an online learning community, you may be lucky enough to have a number of folks who are will placed in the upper left of our simple matrix. However, if yours is like most attempts, you will have only a few if any who want to jump in. The trick, then, is to champion those who already reside in the upper left, and to nurture others to move in that direction. If you can get a conscientious fraction of your learning cohort to be active in sharing and learning (conscientious here means as interested in learning as they are in espousing), then you have a good shot at creating a self-sustaining social learning online community.

In the near future I will share some thoughts on how to move people up and over into the champion zone, but I welcome your thoughts if you’ve had experience (successful or not) in trying to make this happen. It is not an easy task.

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