Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

21 December 2017


Clark @ 8:01 AM

Expertise is an elusive thing. It comes from years of experience in a field.  However, it turns out that it doesn’t just accumulate. You need very specific practice and/or useful feedback to develop it.  And the more expertise one has, the better you are able to apply it to situations. Which has implications for what you do and when and how you do it.

Expertise is valuable. The properties of expertise include that it’s compiled away to be essentially automatic. Which implies it’s not accessible for conscious introspection. (Which is why experts quite literally cannot tell you what they do!)  On the other hand, their responses to situations in their area of expertise are likely to be as good as you can get.  They apply mental models they’ve developed to solve problems.

If you want to develop expertise as an individual, you need to understand how to practice.  Deliberate practice, as Ericsson details, is the key.  You need to practice at the limits of your ability, and consciously learn from the outcomes.  It’s not just doing the job, it’s pushing the boundaries, and actively reflecting.

If you want to develop expertise as an organization internally, the situation is very much the same.  You need resources to develop people, and stretch assignments with feedback and coaching to optimally develop the expertise.

Of course, you can bring in expertise from outside, as well.  The question then becomes one of when and who.  You can contract out work, which makes sense when the activity isn’t part of your core ability.  Outsourcing to technology or external expertise is fine for things that are in areas that are well developed.

Otherwise, you can bring in consultants. The latter is particularly useful when you are moving in a new direction or want to deepen your understandings. A good consultant will work with you to not only help address the situation, but internally develop your own understanding. The key is working collaboratively and transparently. Yes, I’m a vested interest, but I believe these things are true on principle and should be in practice.

Expertise is core to situations you know you need expertise in, but also in those that are new. When you need innovation, you need expertise in the complementary areas that you are applying to address the situation.  You don’t want to develop learning except in the problem.  At least, that’s my expert opinion. Which, of course, is on tap if needed ;).

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