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What's an Expert

There is a new best-selling book: The Death of Expertise by Tom Nichols. It examines the distrust of experts that has been happening, for a while now, with the information explosion. One cause of the decline is that people can go out and “educate themselves”. They can become mildly conversant on any topic in a short amount of time. Examples are using WebMD to self-diagnose or Wikipedia to learn all you need to know to be a little dangerous on a given subject. Individuals can become “experts” with some concerted Internet research or webinars.

Depending on your topic, this can be hazardous, providing a false sense of confidence. Consider the 10,000 Hour Rule. This principle holds that 10,000 hours of "deliberate practice" are needed to become world-class in any field. While some studies disagree about the absolute certainty of 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, they do state, “There is no doubt that deliberate practice is important, from both a statistical and a theoretical perspective.”

So having done something many times before does count. People’s misconception about knowledge versus experience can put them at risk of failure.

We see the “do it ourselves” crowd pursuing step change in productivity improvement, on their own, without professional assistance. They see the challenge as “straightforward”. They’ve got sharp people. They’re familiar with the tools. Their leadership is pressuring to “just get it done”.

All too often we see the same story. In one case a company identified an annual objective of $150 million in productivity improvement and cost reduction. But never achieved a dime after a year or two…or three.

It is disheartening when we see a company decide to “do it themselves”. They’re confident starting with “the low hanging fruit”. We check back a year later. Something diverted them but they’re still confident going after the low hanging fruit…next year. In some cases we’ve seen that scenario repeated for several years and is still going. Yet they still don’t need an expert.

This reminds me of a gear-head friend of mine who liked to work on his car. He built up a nice tool kit and got a copy of his car’s mechanic’s manual. He’d been successful replacing the head gasket, distributor cap and rotor, carburetor, etc. Then he decided to change the cam shafts. He was confident as he started.

Several weeks later, the engine was all over the garage floor. He was frustrated. Other priorities were taking him away from his car. He was determined to make it work but nothing he tried from the manual did the trick. His friends kept asking him to “seek professional help” (get an expert). When he finally did, the expert had his car back up and running in a day.

The point of the story is the difference between knowledge and experience. Our interconnected world is now full of easily accessed information. Agile, Engagement, Productivity Improvement, Work Management, Lean, and Six Sigma are all discussed in detail on the Internet and offered in seminars: what it is, the expected results and how to do it. None include the hands on experience with how to do it in different environments: industrial, organizational, cultural. And achieve measurable results that appear in the bottom line, as proposed.

Our Convergent Results team has that expertise. Our most junior person has over 30,000, hands on, hours designing and implementing process and organizational change. My partners average 70,000 hours. For us, accelerating improvement programs is muscle memory, not an experiment. We achieve objectives in months, not years. Projects pay for themselves before we leave our client’s facilities.

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