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"

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