Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Unwritten rules

I was at a regional meeting where research project proposals put forward by various consortia were assessed. There were formal rules but there were also many unwritten rules - e.g. Did the consortia members come from a sufficient range of countries? Was there a balance between small & large consortia members?

As a former bidder, I was angry that there were these tacit, unwritten rules.

ISO 9000

Our organization was advised that for its ISO 9000 accreditation, we should use internal people rather than external consultants and that we should map our processes as they actually were rather than they should have been.

Both parts of this advice were ignored. We ended up with a shelf full of manuals that no one uses.

Expert Self-Image

At my previous organization, we carried out a detailed analysis of the impact of a privacy breach on our business. Towards the end of my time there, this actually happened. This made headlines in the technology press. I do not think our modelling was used in dealing with this but perhaps that did not matter.

I thought that i had a lot of knowledge in this area and yet very little of this has been drawn on by that organization after i left. They are still operating so I presume that they did not need it. Perhaps experts have an over-inflated view of their own value?


We had a problem with our Ombudman organization. From a customer perspective, there was no consistency. If you put 10 ombudsmen in a room together, you will get 35 decisions. We encouraged experts in our organizational siloes to talk to each other. We got them in a room together and asked them to discuss what to do in a particular situation. We then put these discussions in our knowledge base. We still have multiple opinions but at least these are now visibl

Ignored Handover

At a large multinational, I worked on a project for a year. When it was completed, I did everything I could to ensure the handover of the project - handover notes, process documentation. When i stopped working in that role, no one used it. That "embedded structural capital" was lost.

Expert as a Role Model

You need “deep smarts” to solve problem instantly, help you to consider the relevant and critical areas. My role model is an ex-boss (American), in a complex industry with brand new technology, uncertain environment with small group of people. Trust was very important to him – he would select someone he can trust and work with. He considered what we could do if the plan did not work, what support we could get from Headquarters. He had a very clear communication style. He gave empowerment to his subordinates, and had a great sense of right timing, so he really had “deep smarts”.

If You Can't Get the Expertise, You Can't Keep the Business

This was a huge project to enlarge a site in Saudi Arabia and we needed good engineers. They need to find the right kind of marble and the company did not know how to source it. The project of enlarging the site was stopped. Issue was that the company couldn’t manage the expertise to get the job done.

Unappreciated Experts Will Leave

We have lots of interfaces between government and citizens and expert groups. We are a large organization. We have lots of people with 20 – 30 years of experience and yet they are not treated as having expertise or wisdom. They are considered to be in “ordinary” jobs with low recognition and not so much training required. There will be huge loss of knowledge when these people leave. Their know how is not appreciated.

Limited Transfer is Weak Transfer

Our old computer system needs improvement. There is lots of inhouse customisation. The guy who did it has quit. The reports generated by the system are useless. We have called the guy and he did teach one person how to run reports. That person taught another and then got transferred. Now the third person is running the reports. All this happened within 6 months. There is not very much documentation and only one channel to transfer learning.

Young People Are Not Necessarily Good at Technology

We assume that young people are going to be expert technology users but this is not true. Not all young people use technology well and they often cannot use search engines successfully.

The Hidden Expert

This is a story about how a common secretarial worker became the most expert person. The secretary does all of the filing and the managers are completely dependent on her. She had developed the system and assumed how to transfer to another secretary would be easy. But it will not be an easy knowledge transfer, and the managers are completely out of the loop.

Turning Expertise into Algorithms

I am currently working in Guangzhou. The textile industry them is in the top 3 in China. In this industry it’s difficult to measure color. There can be 30% uncertainty in measurements. Expertise is built by experience and there is no single fixed formula. Our problem is how can we standardize a formula? We have a gap between the workers, 40-50 age group vs younger 20-30 age group. The knowledge transfer or expertise building rate is not very high.

Change in Decision Patterns

I was working in South Africa. We needed to transfer the white managers’ experience to black managers. The program was 6 months long. In the first 3 months, the black managers shadowed the white managers and it was switched around for the next 3 months. Black managers made the decisions and the white managers coached. The problem was that judgments made in the past were not valued today and they had disagreements. So they had to work on a meta level and work out principles.

Young People and New Expertise

Young people are good with electronic gadgets. Why can they use these gadgets easier than older people? Young people can accept new ideas easily. Life experience may not be that important in today’s world

Assessing Expertise through Peer Review

In the Communist party in China, trust is built using peer-review. They bring in a bunch of people to meetings to observe how people operate and make judgments on their expertise and potential based on that.

Expertise in Shared Drives

In my company, co-workers save their files in local drive. Because of small share drive space, it’s full all the time (only 500mb per person). The issue is that there is lost knowledge (such as presentations) and we have to re-invent documents and waste time.

Experienced But Not Expert

This was an experienced sales person with 25 years of experience who had good and bad habits. He could identify the customers and their roles in the deal-making process, such as price points and relationships between them. But he could not read other internal characteristics they had, such as low esteem.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Time and experience teach us to be experts

I know I look at problems differently now in my 40s than I did in my 20s. I think my perspective now is more instinctive and holistic whereas it probably used to be far more analytic. I also believe I've witnessed the differences in approach between other people. I find that now I tend to see the pattern and what is likely to happen - I mean esp in organisational change situations - without and despite analysis. All I can guess is that with experience more of that earlier explicit knowledge becomes compiled and tacit. But it's odd how the world generally prefers an analytic approach to an experience-based one. I like methodologies, but I think they teach us to be novices, not experts.