Do Your Experts Have “Beginner’s Mind”?

203714“None of our men are ‘experts.’ We have most unfortunately found it necessary to get rid of a man as soon as he thinks himself an expert because no one ever considers himself expert if he really knows his job. A man who knows a job sees so much more to be done than he has done, that he is always pressing forward and never gives up an instant of thought to how good and how efficient he is. Thinking always ahead, thinking always of trying to do more, brings a state of mind in which nothing is impossible. The moment one gets into the ‘expert’ state of mind a great number of things become impossible.”
Henry Ford

Henry Ford is also the entrepreneur who said if he had asked his customers what they wanted, they would have said they wanted a faster horse.

Inventors, engineers, and designers around Ford had the luxury of the support of a boss who believed nothing is impossible. That frontier spirit imbues technology and business now. The world is awash in Fords.

The question is whether the world is also drowning in experts. And the answer is no. A true expert remains cutting edge, and we are accumulating knowledge at such a rapid pace the edge continues to move as you approach it. Your background, education and experience only qualify you for asking good questions in a world where knowledge doubles every two years.

Encouraging Beginner’s Mind

The beginner’s mind sees things as if for the first time. A new approach lives in the novelty. While Ford imagined his customers as the uninvolved and passive consumer, that is not the case today. What’s changed in the last 100 years is that we now encourage our developers and designers to stay close to the buyer and listen carefully to the voice of the customer. The consumer of the 21st century is educated, sophisticated and trained to challenge the status quo.

Your customers experience your products with beginner’s mind, and use them in some contexts you may not have imagined. Employees from sales to delivery to design and engineering are encouraged to stay close to the customer and listen for their responses and recommendations.

If your experts are truly living up to their name, they know less every day. But they are smart enough to know it.

Once again proving that Ford was a man quite a bit ahead of his time.

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: One of our Working with SMEs tribe writes to me to relay the following: “The quote that leads your most recent SME mail. . .(t)hat is usually attributed to Roshi Suzuki, the guy who bought Zen to the US, with his book, “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.” And “Beginner’s Mind” is a Zen concept.” Thanks, Joe! Nice to hear from you!

Preserving the Spark: Downsizing, Mergers, Buyouts and Other Knowledge Capture Triggers

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It’s one thing if your valuable employees leave you for another job or for retirement. That one thing is that you really had no control over the event. The decision and probably the date was the employee’s decision and your company had little control over the timing or the circumstances.

It is quite another thing when you plan your employees’ departure through downsizing, mergers and acquisitions, buyouts, cost-cutting, or some other self-imposed staff reduction. That other thing puts you in a position that gives you some control over timing and circumstances. When it is your decision, you can give yourself time to ensure an orderly off-boarding or separation that includes preserving your valuable knowledge assets.

If you are in a position to control your employees’ separation, take the opportunity to put organization-wide knowledge transfer plans in place. The day of the exit interview is not the time to find out what you need to know from them for business continuity.

When you are organizing a mass layoff or initiating any other planned employee departure:

  1. Create a list of mission-critical employees and dates of separation.
  2. Determine what they know as far in advance as possible – at least 3 to 6 months before their departure – so you aren’t blindsided by having them take two months of accrued vacation before their official departure date.
  3. Have a standardized plan and best practice for working with departing employees that includes collection methods, who is responsible for working with them, what assets you need based on their role, how and where the knowledge will be stored, and how it will be transferred and used by others.
  4. Ask departing employees to review and sign off on the knowledge.

Just because your organization is in a position to put a knowledge transfer plan into place does not necessarily mean that it will. Often, it is an individual employee who feels a sense of obligation to the company and sees the need for knowledge collection and transfer that may institute their own knowledge management plan.

Two Stories

Here are two stories that came to me recently of employees who took personal responsibility for knowledge management in their divisions.

Story One

One woman who read my book Finding Your SMEs: Capturing Knowledge from Retiring Workers Before They Leave several months ago said she told her brother about it who had just retired from a division of a global food manufacturer and distributor. He told her that he had seen the problem first hand. Before he retired last year, he took it upon himself to survey the knowledge within his division, collect and preserve it. He came up with his own plan to make sure he left his employer with the critical knowledge they would need to find after he was gone.

Story Two

I just spoke with another woman last week who said she oversees the knowledge management plan for a division of the federal government. She’s been traversing the country working her multi-year plan to capture what the unit will need long-term. Her plan and practices are confined to her division and we talked about the potential of standardizing her methods to other divisions.

“I started out in reactive mode,” she said. Now she describes her knowledge management plan as “an ecosystem. I’m always tweaking it.”

Her plan is all the more important now as the federal government is looking to reduce the workforce by 15 to 18 percent in the next year through attrition and buyouts. She said her 25 years with the department makes her eligible for a buyout, but she wants to stick around and finish the job she has started. She expects to stay with the division about five more years to put something solid in place.

“I am trying to leave a legacy to help the agency after I’m 10 feet under,”  she said.

Wow.

Good as Gold

When you have employees who are looking out for your business continuity, those people can be the lifeblood of your business tomorrow.

If you don’t have a standard approach to knowledge management, support the efforts of those people who are looking out for you and doing the hard work of putting your knowledge management plan in place. Consider adopting and adapting their best practices to the rest of your organization.

These people are good as gold. Mine them.

 

 

Strategic Planning, Strategic Thinking and A Zen Mind Trick

Last week, we talked about critical thinking as a type of expertise, one that you can teach and grow quickly within your organization. One of the greatest values that a true critical thinker can bring to the organization is the ability to look without fear or favor at all parts of your business. That requires turning a bright light on a series of questions that will illuminate where you are and where your business is headed.

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Your big picture thinking about your business and industry needs to include your knowledge management plan or, more specifically, what expertise you need to bottle and preserve to keep your organization running.

When it comes to your knowledge management plan, you need unblinking honesty about the state of your business and industry. Because, quite frankly, not everything or everyone that got you here will get you there. The future is moving faster than the average long-term plan, which is why long term planning has fallen out of favor to agile product development and rapid prototyping. Plans be d*****d. Your competitors have something coming off the proverbial drawing boards that can send your product off in another direction, or off the market completely.

A Zen Mind Trick

An article in SmartBrief this week, Learn the Art of Avoiding Action for the Sake of Action, highlighted the difference between strategic planning and strategic thinking, and author Adriano Pianesi states, “Perhaps we’re ‘in the know’ enough to recognize that many consider the discipline of strategic planning to have long gone the way of the dinosaurs.”

Instead, he advocates strategic thinking as a response to the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world in which we conduct business and live. It’s a world that requires a bias toward action, informed action, but action nonetheless. Let me suggest it is informed action that still requires the type of long-view thinking more characteristic of strategic planning than agile rapid-response iteration.

I am a fan of rapid-response iteration within context. And it is that context that is driven from a deep understanding and analysis of the factors driving your business, your industry and the larger environment that is characteristic of strategic planning.

Critical thinking skills among leaders produce good decisions made within a framework that makes sense based on everything you know, and takes into consideration all the things you don’t know which is a Zen mind trick. And the list of things you don’t know grows longer every day, making those critical thinking skills even more critical.

Pivot and live to see another day.

Strategic Planning for Knowledge Management Course for the Working with SMEs Tribe: This is a Test

In our ever-expanding quest to spread the Working with Subject Matter Experts gospel, we test platforms beyond the blog  to get the message out. This week, we created a test course, Strategic Planning for Knowledge Management.

As a writer, I love to write so that is my go-to communication method. But you absorb information in different ways, so we like to play with other formats to help reach you and teach you where you’re at. We enjoy creating the podcasts and will probably keep them going in some fashion after our first season. In the meantime, I am developing a series of online courses and thought I would share a 10-minute sample of an introductory course with you here for your feedback.

Because this is a test, I realize the lighting and framing of the video is poor. That is the fault of me, the user, and my Internet connection. The actual platform and technology is really cool  and if you like the idea, I will refine it and spend some time improving the video on my end.

Content: Is this information helpful?

Audience: Will leaders in your organization find the information useful?

Format: Would this online course suffice in place of live workshops?

Value: Would you like to drill down in this topic of strategic planning for knowledge management and learn more about how to find your experts using this framework?

Platform: How about the platform? Do you like the slides plus video? Would it be helpful to add the text so you can follow along and read it (Of course, we will make formal courses 508 Compliant)? Would slides plus just audio voiceover be better?

We continue to welcome your comments and feedback. Some of you choose to reach out directly to us at workingwithsmes@gmail.com and that works for us, too. We read everything and respond.

Thanks for following and sharing this information with others.

 

Elevating the Expert and the Critical Thinker in Your Business

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The definition of an expert has been pretty clearly decided.  An expert has probably dedicated at least five full-time years to learning a subject, and may make tens of thousands of small judgments instantaneously when faced with an issue.

But what is a critical thinker, and what is the difference?

This question arises because I’ve often heard clients bemoan a perceived lack of critical thinking skills in employees within their organizations. The request is usually to develop training to sharpen critical thinking skills.

Some critical thinking skills are innate; you’ve met people who have an analytical mind and naturally parse any situation to figure out what is going on and how to solve a problem. Critical thinking skills can be taught, too. You can teach people to think using validated analytic methods. You can teach people how to think in a linear fashion and consider new perspectives.

While critical thinking skills and expertise are not the same thing, they can both be learned. Expertise takes time to acquire and critical thinking skills require applying concentration to the task.

You can be a critical thinker without being an expert. You may have great analytical ability but no real deep knowledge of any particular subject.

You can be an expert without being a critical thinker. Think of certain types of expertise that are innately intuitive or creative that call for mostly right-brain activity.

Most experts are probably critical thinkers. Even if they don’t realize it, experts are usually applying a series of tests to their area of expertise to make decisions whether it is an artist deciding to use a splash of red in a painting or an executive deciding to pursue a particular contract.

Critical Thinking as a Type of Expertise

Many organizations who are experiencing the flight of baby boomers into retirement are concerned about losing valuable expertise that would be difficult or impossible to replace. The people who know your business and your customers intimately have inestimable value. Sometimes you don’t know who they were or what they knew until they are gone.

Organizations do not have to lose critical thinkers, however. Critical thinking is an art and a learned skill.

If you think your company suffers from a lack people able to analyze a situation and able to make a good decision, that is easily solvable.

Many leadership programs teach critical thinking and arm their executives with analytic skills. It’s important to start at the top with those people who are steering the ship. Let me suggest that it is just as important to teach the process of logical thinking farther into the organization right down to where the work is done and where the employee meets the customer.

The value of good critical thinking skills and the ability to make decisions in the moment have impact at the point of greatest influence. So while you are working with your experts to capture and transfer their knowledge, don’t forget to reinforce that knowledge by arming your employees with the ability to make good decisions in the moment, at the point of greatest influence, while the product is being made and the customer is being served.

Critical thinking skills enhance the value of all your other training, and can be built into training programs as part of your learning strategy. After all, mastering the art of making good decisions is a type of expertise and it is a transferable skill to all areas of your organization.

Think about it. Let us know if you have considered the value of critical thinking skills for all your employees.

We welcome your comments below.

Training Coordinator, Project Manager and Instructional Designer – Who’s Who?

As a project matures, roles may become blurred. Often, it makes sense as the strengths of some bleed over into related roles, and other team members reach capacity. Smart teams are flexible and adapt to get the job done well no matter the role to which each person is officially assigned.

For teams who are building training programs, often team members grow from one role into another so they can overlap  serving as writers, designers, graphic artists, project managers, team leads and client managers.  The Training Coordinator is a person who has often walked in many of those shoes.

A Training  Coordinator combines several roles and goes beyond them.

A project manager plans and conducts events, coordinating  the people and the schedule to accommodate tasks and mitigate risk. An instructional designer oversees responsibility for the way a program will be executed to meet the needs of the client. A Training  Coordinator does all those things – and more.

A coordinator works closely with the client to conduct the needs analysis and is involved in planning how to meet those needs, understands and oversees all the roles involved in the project, and can work with the designers, artists, writers and experts who are working together to create a great program. A Training Coordinator is the main client interface, and the role goes beyond management and building training to acting as the conductor of the movement.

The coordinator has strong people in each role, and it is a task that requires laying your reins on loose so everyone can excel at their jobs. In fact, we might posit that a Training Coordinator is almost invisible but has a strong vision.

If you have used the role of Training Coordinator in a project, we’d love to hear from you.

What worked? What didn’t? What could you have done better or what could you have eliminated from the role? What is the best background for someone acting as the Training Coordinator?

We’re learning together, and we enjoy hearing your experiences.

Thanks for reading! Please comment below.

The Working with SMEs 2017 Survey Says…

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It’s that time of year where we report the results of the Working with SMEs Annual Survey.

Our respondents are all male and many are near or at retirement age, although none ready to retire, it seems!  Why quit when we are doing something we love?

As for our concerns, readers continue to struggle with developing training that achieves behavioral outcomes. The solution is creating training that reaches today’s learners as Millennials take over as the single largest generation in the workforce. Millennials and Gen 2020 learn in smaller snippets, and they want information all the time at the point of need.

We found that technology, manufacturing and intellectual property dominate, if not our reader population, certainly our respondents. They felt most compelled to speak up in our survey. Respondents confirmed that capturing and transferring proprietary information is an ongoing business need.

As decades of experience leave the workforce, it pays to:

·         capture what you need to retain as soon as possible

·         transfer it using methods that reach your new learners

·         continue to focus knowledge transfer using strategies that create behavior change

Thank you to everyone who participated in our survey. 

Please comment below. We appreciate your readership and involvement in our community.

 

Here’s what we learned in our Working with SMEs survey this year:

Responses:

Female – 0%

Male – 100%

(Hello, ladies!)

Age:

35-50 – 25%

51-65 – 25%

65+ – 50%

Occupation:

Training and Talent Development – 25%

Executive (C-suite/Management) – 25%

Consultants (business/talent development/marketing/branding) – 50%

Industry:

Technology – 25%

Professional Services – 25%

Manufacturing – 25%

Marketing, Sales and Public Relations – 25%

Biggest Challenge:

Creating training tools and approaches for Millennials – 25%

Developing training that achieves behavioral outcomes – 50%

Assuring protection of intellectual property, patent – 25%

If We Develop Artificial Intelligence, Do You Still Need Your Experts?

 

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The writer in me loves to read everything, and especially books. Last weekend, I read Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money by Nathaniel Popper about the origin and history of cryptocurrencies and the blockchain. It is a well-written and fascinating read by the New York Times reporter, and is full of tales about Internet legends like Reid Hoffman and the Winklevoss twins.

Here’s the interesting part for people like us who are worried about capturing current internal expertise for future business growth. One of the major concerns of workers is that they will be replaced by robots, and it is a legitimate concern because it happens every day. Business owners are always looking for ways to do things more consistently, efficiently and cheaply, and robotics solves that problem. However, when you replace humans, you also introduce the problem of displaced workers. The social implications are astounding so we won’t go there. But we will look at two things to think about as the uptake of robots and artificial intelligence (AI) affects capturing internal expertise:

  1. If you plan to “hire” robots to do the jobs of humans, you may conclude you don’t need to capture human knowledge. Human skills are so “Encyclopedia Britannica”. Those companies looking toward the future are living in the gap, waiting for the next wave of industrialization that antiquates their current business model and their need for training humans.
  2. If you eliminate human workers, how do you pay robots? I figured robots are a capital expense like buildings and machinery but believe it or not, economists are now working out how to pay for the “labor” of robots which puts them in the category of “worker”. AI robots may be your experts of the future.  This is where cryptocurrency comes in. You can “pay” robots in cryptocurrency. It’s right there in the book Digital Gold on page 294.

“Like many [Silicon] Valley firms, Andreesen’s was thinking about intelligent robots, and Bitcoin seemed like a perfect medium of exchange for two machines that needed to pay each other for services.”

Breathe.

This caught my attention because it is clear a lot of the forward-thinkers who are instituting new systems of work, the economy, the social structure, and so on are pondering these questions. If they succeed, theoretically it frees the rest of us to be creative and pursue our passions while being supported by a basic income supplied – I assume – by the robots’ productivity.

Seriously, people are having these discussions right now. You may have heard Mark Zuckerberg called for Universal Basic Income (UBI) in his Harvard Commencement address last week. It’s a real thing. The robots work, get paid in cryptocurrency, are potentially taxed on their labor and we get paid from the labor of robots to take macramé classes. I don’t know about you, but I’m bored just thinking about it.

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I Don’t Digress

You may think I digress from our regularly scheduled topic of capturing and retaining your corporate subject matter expertise. This actually is not a digression at all. This discussion is essential to our topic of whether human knowledge is important, essential, needs to be captured and carried on – or really has any value at all – in light of the rapid progress in robots and artificial intelligence. For those of us who follow developments in the training world, you know that we are learning how to train robots. I think they have made the leap that robots can now acquire learning that builds on prior knowledge – you know, the same way we silly old humans learn.

If you believe the future is here, you are right. If you believe you still have to operate in the present, you are also right.

For those of us still living in the pre-AI world before we all receive a Universal Basic Income, we need to continue to contend with the issues of knowledge capture, retention and transfer between generations of workers for the ongoing success of your enterprise.

Retaining Human Knowledge Until the Robots Take Over

If your experts flee to retirement or leave your organization for any other reason, you are still vulnerable to losing valuable knowledge, skills and attitudes to fulfill your mission effectively, efficiently and in a cost-responsible way today.

What are you doing right now to make sure you keep your expertise under your roof even if your experts leave?

Here’s what I can do to help you raise awareness about these issues in your organization:

  • Speak to your organization’s decision makers to help them analyze their risk of losing valuable expertise
  • Explore which workshops can help you dissect your organization for areas where you are vulnerable to losing your critical experts
  • Help you identify and work with individual experts in your organization

Think about it.

Until the robots take over, you still need a plan!

Are you vulnerable to losing valuable human expertise? Is your company living in the present, the past or the future? Please comment below.

 

Episode 14: Coaching is About Investing in Relationships

In this week’s episode of the Working with SMEs podcast, we talk about the importance of supporting a training program with coaching and mentoring. Co-host Nathan Eckel talks about the investment of the years of relational equity that go into a strong coaching relationship.

“The caliber of the benefit comes out of the caliber of the relationship,” Nathan says.

One of the best ways to leverage your training dollars is to put a coaching or mentoring program in place to support your efforts with personal relationships. The time and cost to the company requires that the people who are mentors are incentivized to make sure those relationships are supported.

And if you invest the 14 minutes to listen, you will find out that we manage to work in a mention of The Jetsons and Spacely Sprockets.

Thank you for listening to the podcast. Please comment and share with your colleagues.

 

Episode 13: One Size Doesn’t Fit All in Experiential Learning

Welcome to the Working with SMEs Podcast with our co-host Nathan Eckel. This week, we discuss unique learning situations that require unique approaches to knowledge transfer. As we look at the 70-20-10 rule that says 70% of learning happens on the job, 20% happens in mentoring situations and 10% happens in formal learning, we discuss ways to emphasize what works.

Nathan adds his usual dose of special humor and regales us with tales of “soul-crushing losses”. We also explore some of the attributes of extinct and emerging industries including their approaches to learning transfer.

We discuss learning transfer that works, such as:

1. Special projects and assignments

2. Job shadowing

3. Temporary job swaps

4. Formal rotation programs.

As a bonus for staying with us for the full 12 minutes -yes, we do all this in just a little over 12 minutes! – you will find out the latest and greatest experimental approach to learning transfer.

As always, thanks for listening. Please comment below and share your thoughts.