Monday, June 29, 2009

Poor Judge of Expertise

I graduated in 2000 and went for an interview for teaching at the Ministry of Education (MOE). That same day, they read an article about me in the newspaper. I thought that that was a positive thing, but we kept talking about my art background. After 15 minutes, he said that I was not accepted. “Will you be teaching Art or English?”, he quizzed. A teacher in Jumeirah who used to teach me then called me about a vacancy. I joined them as a volunteer. Results were good, so the MOE invited me back. The same guy interviewed me. And on the same day, another article about me appeared. But luckily by then I had already been hired by MOE.

Too Young to Know

I regret a decision I made 6 years ago. I used to swim. I had a very good and kind trainer. He wasn’t a professional trainer, but he’d joke and way easy going in the pool. After a while, he was replaced by a pro trainer. First day, he asked us to show him what we could do, and he said, “ You call this swimming?” He took away our interest. At 16, I didn’t know what a good trainer was.

Be Careful Who You Let Go

This story is about a mechanical man working for a train company. He was not educated. When he left the company, they realised that he was the only one who could read the technical papers which was in Russian. They hired him back to train young people. The company also sent the young people to Russia to learn Russian. But young people’s skills not the same as his.

Those Who Can’t Teach

This story is about a military aeroplane mechanic. He was not educated. He spent 25 years maintaining those planes. The technical information was in Russian. After he left, every time they re-assembled a plane, they had 25 extra parts. They had to call him back to train. But he is not trained to train, so the knowledge is in fact lost.

Count the Cost

A friend was working as a chief editor of an IT magazine. It’s a US magazine but was in local language version. He did most jobs from A to Z. After working for a long time, he wasn’t valued. So he resigned. They hired someone who was less skilled and experienced. Finally, the magazine closed. People were not interested in reading the magazine anymore.

Virtuous Cycle

When I started here, I took over marketing. I did not know much about the company then. The person before me was very organized in what she left behind. I managed to do my work better. Now, I understand importance of leaving organized work behind now.

Whatever It Takes

This story is about an IT expert, a brilliant guy. Many schools were under severe closure in this village, but we had results of 12 grades to issue. He sneaked out from the village where he lived and kept working for 4 days and nights to rush results out.

Scaling Expertise

One colleague here was a principal at a school. The school was doing well, and her supervisor was very happy. She was transferred here, and is doing strategy development for her previous school plus other schools as well.

Finding a Gem

This story is about a chemistry teacher who is socially not significant. I discovered by chance that his hobby was repairing old TVs. I got him to lead a class, on recycling old parts to make teaching aids for scientific study. Now he teaches lab technicians to recycle old apparatus. He has a lot of know-how in geography and geology too.

Restrictive Supervision

I worked in the Ministry of Education but left after 6 years. My supervisor / trainer who hired me knew me and what I could do. I had activities after school, and she allowed me to schedule my classes accordingly. But I was promoted to a secondary school. The new principal didn’t allow extra activities. I was going to hold an art exhibition, and the guest of honour was the Minister of Education. The principal didn’t allow me to go but I went anyway. The next day, I was told that I didn’t have a job anymore. The following month, I joined KHDA and I’m happy here.

Bad Apple

Once I was director of Education. This person was in charge of HR. His task was to move people between schools. I discovered that he was bribed by people. We had to take him out and reorganize everything. There were closures of towns in this country – large constraints. Took a lot of process mapping, survey of HR Team. Took 3 months before everything was re-organised again.

One Man’s Trash…

We were shifting to a new police HQ, and were destroying the old building. A policeman walked by and found old boxes with photographs and files in the garbage. He took them to the police chief. It was a fortune of old pictures relating to the history of the police force. Nobody knew about it. We didn’t even know who the people in the photographs are. Eg, there were 400 photographs of a 1981 Hurricane taken by the police. Nobody else had documented in this way.

Different Ways of Transferring Expertise

Knowledge transfer depends on the type of knowledge and personality of learners. Sometimes they can pass peer to peer. Sometimes, they have to write it down. Sometimes, we create simulation games, decision games – ask the officers to read situations and make decisions. Computer gives a report of mistakes and reasons – tells them how to use which procedures and when.

Uncanny Ability

We have a guy at the airport who somehow knows how to identify people smuggling. Nobody knows how he does it. He doesn’t know how he does it either. He is not highly educated but 9 times out of 10 he will be right. He has been doing this for 20 years. There was one time he was convinced one guy was smuggling but we could find nothing. We held the guy for 48 hours, searched everything, found nothing. But our guy was convinced. Finally we noticed that he had some cargo, machine parts. We took it apart and found nothing. But finally we noticed a discrepancy between the declared weight and the actual weight. We had to tear the machinery apart and we found the drugs. Now we have 2 highly educated officers accompanying him to try and learn how he sports these things.

Healthy Competition

The city government has CoPs to share expertise eg, environmental expertise, agriculture, etc. We have over 600 different minds of expertise in different fields. This year, we will start a centre of expertise to reduce research costs, eg, use experts to help organisations to solve their problems, identify research areas. We will have open competition to solve identified problems - for a prize.

Youthful Persistance

This was from a smelting company. There was a 17-years-old assistant who had to get knowledge from one guy who is anti-social, short, smelly. There was no documentation. He put in the codes to run the smelter. The assistant was very persistent in asking how to enter the codes. Eventually, he was able to get the information in 3 days. The smelly guy left. The assistant left too after a while. The manager was in a lot of difficulty because nobody knew how to run the smelter. He called up the young assistant on the off chance that he might have the information, and he did. The manager was so happy he held a party.

Internal Expertise Helped Saved Money

This is a success story about benchmarking. My colleague told me that in his department an employee complained of a back injury (slipped disc) and brought a medical report saying he needed 180,000 for operation. They were shocked, and didn’t think they had to cover it. The guy’s embassy said that it was a work-related injury and that they had to cover it. The organization said they wouldn’t cover it, as it was not a work injury. How can we prove that it is due to work? The embassy suggested a 3rd party medical report, from an environmental health expert. It would cost 20,000 for this report because it required special certification internally. They found someone who had the certification, and who was not working in a related field. She was able to prove that it was not the company’s responsibility.

The Assistant Knows It All

I worked in an investment bank. It had cutthroat bankers and long work hours. They would sabotage each others’ projects. Assistants do everything for their boss. Whenever the bosses move, they will take their assistant with them as they know stuff about their wife, kids, dentist, etc. Had to learn all about his bosses’ family as new assistant.

The Real Source of Information

There is one guy who knows everything about development and history of our who’s who. The police force can get the real story from him and not the published story. He usually says, “I don’t have time” so we go drink coffee with him, ask him a questions and record it immediately after on my mobile phone. Then I go back and write it down that night.

The Unusual Suspects

My office boy and my secretary are my knowledge guys; they know everything about everything. It is not just the formal experts in the organization who know.

To Catch a Thief…

In police work, we use serious offenders or people who think like criminals. They are best in catching crooks or working out faults or security risks but they often get caught doing bad things.

Toyota’s Canteen

A story from Toyota about a big canteen where a lot of knowledge sharing takes place. You feel safe, loyal, secure in that culture.

Tough Nut to Crack

The most difficult task is to capture tacit knowledge especially with older guys. 3 years ago, we had a brigadier who had been in Dubai Police for 50 years. He had worked in many different departments, but hard to capture his knowledge. He was shy and refused to attend workshops, speeches, and refused to cooperate with experienced interviewer. We started by searching his profile and then asked him questions about incidents and cases in his past. Got something from him but not a lot.

Sniffing Things Out

At the homeless shelter, you need to be able to discern quickly if people are “dry” before you let them in. You have to differentiate between ex-alcoholics and those who are drunk or on drugs. You need to work out quickly at the doorstep. You don’t want to admit people who are on drugs or drunk as they will affect others.

Database of Crime

We have a Crime Investigation Diploma course taught by officers who have worked in the field and not just in classroom context. The material is from their own experience. We have a monthly magazine where we publish cases as interesting stories. We have a database of cases all the way from the 1980s.

Price of a Manager’s Insecurities

There was this very competent worker who wrote books about the job. People went to him for advice and he always assisted. But his line manager felt very threatened and facilitated transfer of this competent man to another department. This guy eventually left. But people still went to him for advice many years after.

Disposable Expertise

Large consulting company has lots of data in their databases on previous project. Consultants are dispensable assets as they just get proposals, use templates, work hard, then they last a year or two and we throw away and get more consultants.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Expertise is in the eyes of the receiver

In 1986 I took my first tentative steps as a new "knowledge engineer" looking to extract the expert knowledge from Maurie, a veteran Iron Ore Sintering Plant Foreman, who was due to retire in 12 months. He had been doing the job for 35 years and was considered by his "juniors" an out and out "Expert" despite their own 20+ years in their jobs. Armed with the latest Expert Systems tools and techniques I set about capturing the essence of how he went about managing this complex thermodynamic process. I developed a large rule base which I simulated in back shifts with less expert operators. What I found was that my rule base didn't really contain any startling insights or "gems" of wisdom. Virtually all of the more "junior" operators were doing similar things. None the less Maurie was the "acknowledged" expert. Back shifts on a Sinter plant provide ample time for reflection and discussion with backshift operators. The job was not all that hectic. Your expertise was put to the test when things went wrong. What I began to understand was that much of Maurie's expertise was related to the respect he had built up with his peers. He lived close to the plant and knew it like the back of his hand ... even to the extent of where the shovels and brooms were kept. He developed relationships easily and was on a first name basis with the then CEO of the company, who he had "trained" as a young graduate doing the rounds, right down to the most junior staff member. This experience has stayed with me throughout my lengthy KM experience. Perhaps Maurie in the end did not have superior technical knowledge to any of his peers. However his ability to share what he had through the trusted relationships he had built over time, meant that in the eyes of his peers he was a "true expert"

Monday, June 15, 2009

Context creates expertise

My expertise has always been determined by my context. No matter what it is that I want to develop in terms of expertise, I have always found myself developing expertise nbased on the context I find myself in. An example would be where I was required to create business acumen training for Bank Managers but it required them to have training that was contextual to their role. In other words, no simulations that did not provide for direct application. From this project and the ensuing evaluation I developed a reputation for business acumen expertise and was constantly called on when considering decisions that influenced the models and processes that were introduced as a result of the success of the program. My context at the time provided the opportunity for me to develop that expertise.

group collaborative design skill

For years I worked as a project and program manager in a very creative organization. When we were coming together to deal with a complex situation, we always came up with many, many ideas. Our problem had been agreeing how to converge on an action. I left the organization and spent 10 years in the field of collaborative design. Today design has risen to a high art. My experience has been in the foundational science of group decision support.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


He works for the housing department. He's been there 20 years. He writes everything down in case the situation has to go the tribunal. None of the juniors write things down.

Helpful Secretary

I was a new recruit at a patent attorney firm. Nothing had been written down there on how to do things. It was all assumed knowledge. I had to take a file and sit in front of a partner (a chemist) and work. I didn't want to admit that I didn't know anything! Fortunately his secretary was a very helpful person. I remember her well. She had a twin-set and pearls and an IBM typewriter.

Wrong Number

When I worked in the airforce, the golden rule was not to make assumptions in aircraft maintenance. We had a situation where the part number in the manual was different to the part number in the catalogue. We were told to order it anyway - they were the same. So we called up the supplier and found out that they weren't the same at all! If we got that wrong we could have grounded the aircraft!

Numbers & Letters

We have a member of our library staff who helps with the shelving. He has been there for 7 years. One day he asked "Do the numbers on come before the letters?" He obviously hadn't taken anything in!

Experience Database

We have an experience database in our law firm. However experience is not the same as expertise. Expertise needs to be validated. Expertise is attached to a person. This is an issue for IT - they don't seem to understand what the database relates to.

Interpersonal skills

I have had managers with the same level of experience & status. Those with interpersonal skills and a better engagement style get better outcomes.


My hobby is quilting. Quilters come from different backgrounds. Some are "artistic". They bring a lot of flair to their work and have a different way of looking at pattern & colour. Other people judge your work on how perfect the corners are. People use different criteria to judge.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Ten Seconds

Some people say that they are great at interviewing. They say that after 10 seconds they know whether a candidate is any good or not. This often isn't true. Some people think they have skills but they really don't have a clue. There is a long, hard slog to master a skill.

Gluing the spine

I work at a university library and I know a fair bit about book binding. I was asked about my skills & interests and I mentioned this. My manager asked me to run a class for 5 other staff members about book binding & mending. After the class, all the attendees keep on making the same mistake. They glue the spine to the outside cover. We've tried ore training and explaining but nothing seems to work. They don't get it.

Everything stops when he goes on holiday

I started out as an accounts person but I was good at relating to the MD. He knew all 6000 customers by name but he never wrote any of it down. My unofficial role was to make up procedures so he'd have to write something down. He doesn't trust anyone else. Everything stops when he goes on holiday.

In The Bar

I work in a bar. There's a young boy who works the same shifts as me, We keep on having the same conversation over and over again. He makes the same mistakes over and over again. He doesn't seem to be learning.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Battling on with KM during The Return of Scarcity

I needed to get internal auditors trained in the new versions of ISO 9001 -2008. However the GFC made this difficult to do via the usual route of sending them to an external course. So i used Quality Management groups in LinkedIn to have discussions on the new standard; also used ASQ forums (American Society of Quality - I'm a member) and Elsmar Cove comprehensive online Quality community resources. I pulled together a self-training pack and loaded it into our Sharepoint site. Problem solved. A new training qualification for the program created in our SAP HR ERP system. An economic downturn doesn't mean you have to give up training and development altogether - you just have to be resourceful & innovative.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Status vs Experience

High flyers go through a quicker path. Their way of doing things is different. They have a shorter time so they are harder on us. They have the “I think I’m right” attitude and don’t listen to other more experienced people. So they end up having to fight fire but you just have to go along with what they want.

Experts Are Boring!

We had briefing sessions by our experienced staff but I find they were not helpful. The presenter was not articulate and the flow was not very good. So you have people leaving the room. When you get them to share, you don’t get the results you want. This experienced person knows certain areas are lacking and puts them in his slides, but he is not engaging. Formal sessions are not so suitable. Informal sessions are better with coffee or tea.

Experience Slows Us Down

Experienced staff have better recall, but they tend to fall back on past practices. This impedes exploration. During brainstorming, ideas don’t generate. No one dares to set a precedent. They say “If you go by past files, you can’t go wrong.”

You Don't Need What We Know

We always have a problem getting Ops to attend a meeting. Once, we asked this person from Ops to attend a meeting to ask them how to handle a negligence case. This person asked for an email request. We sent, but later he called to say that his boss didn’t think it was necessary for him to attend as it couldn’t help.


At Corporate Communications, we handle visits from overseas. One person in our department is very experienced. We always go to her for protocol issues. She’s very helpful. If she leaves, we’ll have issues. She‘s been doing this for 5 years.

Who To Ask?

We do investigations before we put up recommendations. We need to know whether policies allow for this and that. We are not clear who we can ask. You wonder whom you should send queries to. Sometimes people have left and you’re not aware. We asked departments whom we should write to. Recently, I found out that the answer was given to us 2 years ago. For different policies, you have to write to different people and you have to remember who to write to.

Empowered to Fail

I have seen instances where employees without specific skills relevant to the situation incorrectly try to diagnose problems based on what their own field of expertise. Eg a case where self directed shift crews (the crowd) were empowered to run a plant according to how they believed it should be run, but without technical understanding of the appropriate risks when unexpected circumstances occurred - unfortunately the techo's (the elite) were shifted off to the side as only support to the self directed crews (the crowd) - the glitch, the self directed shift crews (the crowd) then caused in their well meaning ignorance, when their "cygnets" unexpectedly became "black swans" instead of "white swans" ran to tens of millions of dollars to fix - some of us were then called in to clean up afterwards & were quite incredulous - to us it was entirely expected that "black swans" would result and not "white swans" ... But then the self-directed work crews (the crowd) didn't know about the existence or possibility of the "black swans" until far, far too late ... So sometimes a crowd helps, and sometimes it doesn't necessarily help and can hinder - it's about getting "all" the right people connected up via the informal networks when it is needed.