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.

 

Oh, No! My Hero Advises “Fire Your Experts!”

InnovationNow what?

One of my living heroes Peter H. Diamandis recommends in a May 14 Tech Blog that when companies want to do something new and disruptive, they need to avoid their experts. His reasoning is very logical: Experts know a lot about the status quo; after all, they’ve likely created it!

The current experts will be springloaded to protect the status quo they have invested their careers into developing. Experts see things from the way they are, not the way they could be. Also, they have a vested interest in the way things are because if the status quo changes, their knowledge could get relegated to the scrap heap of history.

“An expert is someone who can tell you exactly how something can’t be done.” Peter’s Laws #21.

This logic dictates that you do not want experts on your team creating innovative, disruptive products.  When a company wants to move beyond the known, it needs to bring new minds to the problem that can see it in a fresh way.

He’s right. He’s my hero. Of course, I think he’s right. After all, he gave us the XPrize, Singularity University, and is squarely in front of the human potential movement.

He even quotes Henry Ford, that icon of innovation, here:

I will close this blog with a quote from Henry Ford… I LOVE this quote. Enjoy.

‘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.’

Keep innovating and let’s create a world of Abundance.”

But Fire Them? Maybe Not

Okay, so maybe you don’t want your seasoned experts leading the team that is coming up with the next great thing – your “Moonshot” – to borrow Diamandis’ language.  However, let me suggest that existing experts in the field know a lot about what has worked and what did not. Or at least experts know what has not worked in the past given the limitations of the knowledge and resources available at the time certain ideas were tested.

Innovation requires both a strong knowledge of what was and what is to provide a solid foundation to comprehend what could be.

This is why.

Sometimes the reason something was done – or was not done – is not immediately known. You can save hours, weeks, days, years and millions of dollars when you find out why – for example – you need to process something by etching or printing. Why water works in the process, or didn’t at the time. Why certain batteries failed at a point in the process. Why humans just wouldn’t do it that way. What happens if you incentivize buyers in a certain way.  And so on. And so on.

Perhaps another way to see the issue of “Fire Your Experts!” is to suggest that you enlist them as historical resources. Go to them. Ask them questions.  You may hear things like: “Oh, we tried that and were surprised that they bought less of this and more of that because of X, it took twice as long because we didn’t foresee Y or customers were driven to a competitor because of Z.”

Your current, fresh minds working on solutions will know if the limitations or parameters have changed enough over the last 20 or 50 or 70 years that problems encountered then no longer exist today.

Experts house history between their ears.

“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” British statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke (1729-1797).

Therefore, I might slightly modify Diamandis’ suggestion to say that if you want to do something new and disruptive, have your fresh talent go at it full bore with a clean slate. And have your experts on call to backstop them and answer questions.

If your fresh talent and your experts can put their egos on the shelf and aren’t worried about protecting the status quo or their reputations as a brilliant young engineers, you may find that the one-two combo platter of shiny new genius and seasoned veteran are an unbeatable team.

 

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.

From the Mailbag: Advice on Working with Foreign (ex-US) Experts

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Last week, I tapped into the Wisdom of the Working with SMEs Crowd for advice on how to work with experts who are non-US natives and non-English native speakers. Several of you stepped up to serve! In our first-ever guest blog post, Mr. Martin E. Gilligan Jr. generously shares a wealth of international experience with us. Should you care to contact Mr. Gilligan directly, his contact information is below his blog.

Thanks to all of you for your readership and engagement.

Guest Blogger: Martin E. Gilligan, Jr.

Since I got my first foreign sales assignment purely by unfortunate circumstances (for me, the company, and the CEO) – I didn’t even have a Passport, only spoke “pigeon Spanish,”  and only had US/Canada sales experience. BUT, I ended up getting 102 country pins on my travel map and setting sales records in the ten+ years I was responsible for sales/marketing of boilers, HVAC, and Alternative Fuel systems – this was selling capital goods w/ value of $250,000 to $5,000,000 each. Following that, as a consultant, I used to do two to four US / Foreign licenses and/or strategic relationship agreements per year and still do one or two a year for my long-term clients.

In dealing with foreign training, selling, and technical support I learned (the hard way) the following – do it or you’ll pay for it later.

1. Research the country – music, food, culture, customs. Luckily, I was so terrified of my first trip (to Peru for the fish meal industry) I did this without having to be told. Absolutely mandatory for anyone traveling to do the actual teaching/service work and/or supervising such effort – whether or not he/she is on the trip or does it by text/e-mail or Skype from the home office. It can avoid a LOT of “foot-in-mouth” problems. The goal for each of your team members is to come out of the meeting or training session with at least one good personal relationship on the other side. You do that by eating, drinking, socializing with people on their terms, not yours. I always stayed in a local business hotel (not a big US chain) that usually didn’t speak English, but my host (customer, sales rep, distributor) took care of me. You don’t have to speak the language to enjoy a great meal, listen to good music, or watch local happenings or a game with the other person’s kids. These experiences create “bonding” connections which may save the day when you are in deep-doo-doo and need a favor, or when someone is being stubborn or thick-headed and you need advice on how to break the logjam. The other person realizes that it works that way for him/her too so it is not unfair to either party.

2. If you have access to a native language speaker in your industry for that specific country, use them to the hilt. If you don’t, do the research to find a good, competent (in your industry) professional translator. The American Embassy and your Industry Trade Journals that publish in that country are good places to start looking.  Set your schedule so that you have more than a couple of hours alone with the translator to go over what you intend to present and the key points you want to make. It may cost you extra dollars, but you can’t imagine the cost and lost sales and implementation problems a wrong translation can cause, which will usually come back to your account – regardless of what your English Terms & Conditions say. DO NOT use university professors, relatives, or foreign customer employees unless you are sure that they understand the business or subject matter you are going to present. Company employees and professors will “color” their translation with their own opinions and prejudices (especially if they know that you don’t have a clue what they are saying). These comments are especially true of printed or recorded “leave-behind” materials. They should be vetted by someone who will understand something that will come across as “wrong,” “stupid,” “prejudiced,” or “insulting.” The classic example is Chevrolet naming their South American export car NOVA which roughly translates into “no go” or “does not go.” Or the Mexican Restaurant Chi-Chis  which is a crude slang term for breasts in Mexico and Central America.

3. The English as a second language audience is a separate (and often more difficult) case. Many times the so-called English speaking person does not dare to admit that he/she did not understand what was presented due to their status within the company as knowing English. The answer here is the same as # 5 below. Secondly, the English as a second language person understands English in a very specific, exact “dictionary” manner so avoid slang or technical jargon and use simple terms.

4. When scheduling the program, double or triple your normal presentation and break time. After each topic change, stop for questions and to repeat segments that were difficult to understand.  Unless you have been the recipient of an incomprehensible briefing or program in a foreign language with English subtitles or through a translator, you can’t imaging how exhausting it can be – particularly when someone’s company or department or personal success depends on getting it right. Plan on at least one “pure” follow-up session to make sure that the basics “took” and monitor implementation on at least twice the normal frequency as in an English-speaking country.

5. When preparing written documents or brochures/posters,  OR briefing charts/slides, OR scripts for spoken presentation (and there should ALWAYS be a script or detail notes for any spoken briefing in case you have to go back and repeat – prove you made – a specific point) always use very basic and simple English language and sentence construction. Make it easy to translate and/or be understood by the second language person. Many times, to make an important point, you need to repeat it several times using different words and/or illustrations to make the point. NEVER use slang or highly technical jargon without multiple explanations about what it means.

6. If at all possible, especially under license implementation situations, bring a key person from the receiving group to a good example situation in the US or some other English-speaking country so that you have someone in the room who understands most of what you are trying to get across to the others, but don’t let them make the briefing unless he/she has actually run your operation in the US.

This sounds like a lot of work and expense, and it is; but it pales to insignificance when compared with re-doing, repairing, re-training, undoing and re-doing stuff with a 10,000+ mile one-way trip for each session that is not going to be paid by the licensee or customer. As the saying goes: “You can pay now or you can pay later, but you will pay!!”

 

Martin E. Gilligan, Jr., is the Owner & Principal Consultant at MARTIN & ASSOCIATES “Who you SHOULD see before you HAVE TO SEE an attorney”. Mr. Gilligan can be reached directly at martinejr@comcast.net. For more information, visit his website at http://www.martingilliganconsulting.com

Episode 12: Planning to Avoid Shelfware

Welcome to the Working with SMEs Podcast with our co-host Nathan Eckel. In this episode, Nathan asks the question, “What could be worse than losing friends on Facebook over your political opinions?” The answer: Shelfware. Want to know more? Then listen here.

 

 

Training that is built and doesn’t get used has two major problems:

1. It is a waste of money.

2. Valuable information has been collected but is not disseminated.

When you are proactive in your approach to your training needs analysis -rather than reactive – you can avoid building training that doesn’t get used.

Thank you for listening! We look forward to your comments.

Looking for Your Advice and Opinions on Working with Foreign (ex-US) Experts

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The topics for this blog often come from you. Usually a conversation or an email results in ideas, and commonly the same issue will surface a few times within a week or so. This week, several American colleagues mentioned challenges in working with foreign experts who speak a primary language other than English.

As a result, I am going to try something new and start a discussion around the challenges in these situations by creating two hypothetical case studies for you to consider. The readers here have similar interests, so please share your advice, recommendations and opinions with others. Sometimes you respond with comments on the website, other times I hear back personally from you responding to me in email. Either way, if you’d like me to share your comments with other readers, let me know. Hopefully, we’ll all benefit as we learn from the wisdom of the Working With SMEs crowd.

Case Studies To Consider

Case #1: An American English-speaking training company is dealing with Japanese experts in Japan and working remotely with them using Zoom, so they are seeing each other and sharing slides. The training company has a team consisting of a designer and writer both on the calls. The Japanese experts have English skills and the American training team has no Japanese. The trainers are having difficulty understanding the experts’ accents, and the experts present their slides written in Japanese.

Consider: Taking the situation’s perspective from either the training company or the Japanese company, what would be your next move and how would you salvage this relationship so it results in an effective training outcome?

Case #2: An English speaking training company based in the UK with offices in the US has been contracted to build a series of training modules for a company of 150,000 employees located in 75 countries. Many of the employees speak English as a second language. The training company has been hired due to their strength in visual training modalities. They are excited at the opportunity to work with this global corporation and to explore the potential of their cutting edge technology.

Consider: What are some of the first steps you would take to ensure a smooth process? Who should be at the table from the training company and its client company? What kind of safeguards and procedures would you put in place so language and cultural sensitivity is built into the process at each phase?

General Questions to Consider

When an English-speaking American is working with foreign-speaking experts, whether within the U.S. or in another country, how do you build cultural and language supports into your training development?

Do you:

Hire cultural competency experts to ensure sensitivity and eliminate cultural bias?

Hire foreign language or translation experts to assist with non-native English speakers?

Provide cultural or language education for your English-speaking, Western-based training team?

Prefer to work in person as often as possible to develop and strengthen relationships?

Explore the issues openly with clients at the beginning of your relationship, looking for places where you can establish processes and provide additional supports to reduce cultural and language differences or misunderstandings?

Specialize in working with non-native English speakers or outsource your work to training companies that do?

Wisdom of the Working with SMEs Crowd

Instead of our usual offering of advice and opinion, we are turning the tables on you this week. We have a lot of questions. If you have opinions or experiences to share – or even other related questions and issues – we look forward to hearing from you.

Episode 11: The Most Dangerous Assumption about Your Internal Expertise

Welcome to the Working with SMEs Podcast. This week our cohost Nathan Eckel leads a discussion about why all your corporate expert knowledge is not equal. Nathan says that this is the “fun-est” episode we’ve done, and he gets a bit PG-rated but as it turns out, kids can stay in the room.

In our conversation, we talk about the most dangerous assumption that you can make about your corporate knowledge – and that is to decide nothing is important enough to capture. The second most dangerous assumption  is that everything is equally important. Takeaway: Make sure you know what’s important, specific to your organization, and spend your finite resources to codify that.

“Not all your corporate knowledge is equal…capture the things you can’t replicate.”

Thank you for listening! We encourage your comments below.

 

Stop Dissing Your Experts! They Are Not “Brilliant Jerks”

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During the last several weeks I have seen several titles of workshops on how to work with SMEs that bothered me, and I feel the need to step forward and speak up in defense of experts.  I don’t vent often, but this needs to be said.

No, I won’t call out the sponsors of the workshops, but I will call out the pattern of disrespect because it offends me to see experts insulted. In fact, let me suggest that if people who work with experts do not respect the people they work with or enjoy the job, they should find other work or change their attitudes.

Here’s what I have seen:

  • One workshop offered help on how to work with “brilliant jerks”. Seriously? If you think someone is a jerk, why would you want to work with them? Even more poignantly, why in the world do you think they would want to work with you? When you resort to name-calling, it demeans not only the other person but it demeans yourself.
  • Another workshop insinuated it will help you deal with experts in a way that suggested deer-hunting or working in a morgue. This particular company said it can help you “snag, tag and bag” your expert. The image is really quite macabre when you think about it.
  • A third consultant suggested that experts are sort of goofy and need to be managed in a way that is manipulative.

A Real Methodology that Respects Everyone

Yes, good people skills are essential to working with experts. In fact, good “soft skills” – as they are called in the training industry – help in all relationships. My colleague Nathan Eckel is an expert on working with subject matter experts from a soft skills perspective.  He is an expert in leadership skills. In fact, he speaks and writes on how to “lead” experts from a 360 degree perspective. That attitude, one of leading another in a relationship of mutual respect, is a positive approach.

He and I often tease each other about our different mindsets about working with experts. Nathan is about soft skills and I am about process, templates and methodology. He points out that we actually are both about all of it but we focus on different parts. Certainly, we recognize the need for both approaches and the value of having a combination of those skills in any project.

Nathan says, “We differentiate what we do, and we both add value to everyone by valuing everyone. Our work is beyond the ‘ID (instructional design) zone’ because we want the whole team working and playing well together to get results.  We both know it’s better to be in the performance zone than the ID zone.”

Especially because I have known and listened to Nathan speak on this issue, he has made me particularly sensitive to the way we work with, talk to and talk about the experts we have the honor of knowing and learning from. A respectful attitude ultimately spells the success or failure of your training project. More important, they lead to success or failure in life.

If someone thinks they are working with a “brilliant jerk”, guess who the real “jerk” might be?

Episode 10: What is Your Competitive Advantage?

In this episode of the Working with SMEs podcast, cohost Nathan Eckel and I talk about how to decide what to capture for business continuity by determining your competitive advantages.

We start by talking about Nathan’s book, Open Source Instructional Design, in which he discusses the people skills of working with subject matter experts. His book is available here.

Not all businesses in an industry need to preserve the same knowledge. Here we discuss how to think about about your competitive advantages so you know what to spend your valuable, finite training dollars to preserve.

Thank you for listening! Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.