Monday, November 30, 2009

Discounting of Expertise

This is from Michiko Kakutani's review of Sarah Palin's book Going Rogue, published in the NYT November 14 2009:

'Yet Mr. McCain’s astonishing decision to pick someone with so little experience (less than two years as the governor of Alaska, and before that, two terms as mayor of Wasilla, an Alaskan town with fewer than 7,000 residents) as his running mate underscores just how alarmingly expertise is discounted — or equated with elitism — in our increasingly democratized era, and just how thoroughly colorful personal narratives overshadow policy arguments and actual knowledge. Ms. Palin herself had a surprisingly nonchalant reaction to Mr. McCain’s initial phone call about the vice president’s slot, writing that she was not astonished, that it felt “like a natural progression.”'

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Memory is linked to context

From a blog post by Shawn Callahan 10/11/08

Remembering experiences is heavily dependent on surroundings. I’m currently helping an energy company learn the lessons from retiring employees. I’m videoing their experiences with the view to facilitating sessions using the footage; it’s not really about capturing knowledge, just sparking new conversation based on what’s captured. My last subject was the company’s network controller. He’d been in the role for 10 years and I interviewed him in his office, which was right next to the control room. The control room looks like a mini version of the one from the movie The China Syndrome. His office has a window looking into the control room and it is festooned with charts and whiteboard diagrams. Everywhere you look are computer screens. He has a large table in the middle of his office, which has been the site of many disaster response war rooms. He was brimming with stories.

The network controller was retiring two weeks after my interview and I asked whether I could interview him again at his home. He was happy to help. A month later we met in his lounge room and the response was noticeably different. The stories weren’t as rich. It was harder for him to recall the events. The surroundings didn’t contain the memories and prompters to help him remember what he knew. Surroundings make a big difference to what people can recall.

Invisible expertise on proposal teams

A proposal team is going through a debrief after the proposal is submitted. The proposal team manager admits that he really doesn't like to write and wishes the organization had more proposal writers available to support the proposal teams that are essentially made up of scientists and engineers. While the scientists have typically developed writing skills, the engineers haven't.

A member of the team present at the debrief timidly raises her hand to declare that while she's typically uncomfortable contributing in group settings, she's very comfortable with writing and she would have loved to play a greater part in writing the proposal. Her official role on the team only required her to write a half page. She could have contributed much more but she was never asked and she never realized her writing skills would have been appreciated.

On the same team, a scientist who knew nothing about the budget side of the proposal was successfully pulled in to help write the narrative related to the budget. Sometimes you've got to look beyond a team members' assigned role and look for hidden expertise.