Designing for Wisdom

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In a previous post I spoke about knowledge, skills and behaviour which are normally the objectives of training and learning design efforts tend to be framed. In this post, I want to expand further on all three however, instead of talking about behaviour, I want to talk about wisdom as a objective.

The first thing I’d like to recommend is to shift focus away from product development and focus more on managing access to relevant expertise. By doing this, the emphasis becomes really finding the right experts and figuring out how best to make their expertise accessible to anyone in the organization who needs it. I am not referring here to experts as people who have answers but rather as people who have evolved means to come up with ways to respond to situations within a specific domain that tends to always produce desired results.

In most learning practices the focus on product development often neglects the validation of this type of expertise and as such emphasis is placed purely on content access, what people need to know rather this type of expertise – why and how they go about knowing.

Accessing expertise has three components

  1. Knowledge to decide – first, knowledge to decide refers to the conceptual knowledge available to the person. This knowledge is what the person uses to interpret data received from their own body about what they are thinking, feeling and experiencing and from the environment about what is going on in the situation including where the situation involves other people  directly or indirectly (which it usually does). This knowledge determines how the person is able to frame the situation, meaning make decisions and judgement about what is going is on and what actions to take. With respect to experts,  this is related to accessing the expert’s conceptual frameworks for making sense of and in various situations about what is going in within themselves and in the situation and determining what actions to take to achieve intended goals or outcomes
  2. Skill to act –  first skill to act refers to the repertoire of actions the person is aware of and feels comfortable or confident executing in relation to how they have framed the situation and their intended outcomes. With respect to experts, this is related to the repertoire or range of actions the experts tend to select or execute and the level of proficiency demonstrated when executing these actions in what can be considered typical or common scenarios. It is important to note however that the actions are not tied to the situation but rather to the actor, meaning the choice of action is based on the knowledge and skill of the actor not on any linking of action to situation or results. This distinction is important because action here is not referring to a single action but a continuum of actions executed over the time required to manage the situation to achieve a desired outcome (more on this in later articles).
  3. Wisdom to succeed – this is the underlying mindset and presence of mind related to a sense of purpose and commitment to achieving results that deliver intended value. This drives a dynamic and continuous evolution of knowledge and skills in, before as well as after the moment such that decisions become more effective and quicker and skills become more precise and impactful. This fluid process dynamically creates and maintains continuously evolving and adaptive levels of knowledge and skills focused on enabling higher predicability of success in all situations encountered.

The goal for design needs to be wisdom and needs to go beyond emphasis on any specific knowledge or skill. One way to go about doing it is to recognise that the wisdom of experts fall into 2 categories – external experts and internal experts. The approach to accessing these two needs to respect the differences between them.

External experts are industry or academic experts. They are typically domain-specific and possess wisdom at a level that is relevant to applications within that domain.  Here domain expertise refers knowledge and skills from the perspective of university or college e.g. faculties or departments in universities or the perspective of typical roles in the industry e.g. financial services, oil and gas, telecommunications industry frontline, C-suite, control functions, operations, technology, support, etc. but in general not specific to any organisation.

Internal experts on the other hand are experts within the unique context of the specific organisation and thus are very contextual and as a result also more integrated – they have learned what and how to apply domain expertise to achieve results in this particular context.

So while the external experts can afford to take a highly specialized and largely isolated  approach to enabling access to their expertise as one finds in typical curriculum-based design approaches, the internal experts have to take a more whole-self perspective requiring an integrated view of self (personal), role (individual, management and/or leadership), activities, results and organisation. (see READ cycle in this post)

With the context of the above, the recommended approach to enabling access to expertise (internal or external) with a wisdom focus is this

  1. Recognize knowledge is everywhere and needs to be everywhere, access to external knowledge expertise should be first addressed by identifying experts who have enabled their expertise for ready access – blogs, online Q&A forums, books, podcasts and online learning platforms, constantly search for, validate and curate these and make them available. Separately, work with internal experts to make their knowledge expertise accessible in the same way – internal blogs, online Q&A forums, published documents, podcasts, etc.
  2. Accept that skills can only be developed through practice and thus when searching for expertise accessible via classroom training ensure the classroom experience is focused on accessing the expert’s skills to act – proficiency in a varied set of related actions. This means ensuring the expert has the expertise in the skills in question and then design for extensive use of case studies and role plays.
  3. Commit to wisdom as a goal and thus when searching for experts, find those who can provide access to their thinking patterns, mindset and attitudes. This access typically takes the form of intensive dialogues or debriefs between the experts and learners off the back of the experts observing or participating in real life or simulated experiences with the learners. Also, this requires a commitment to deliberate practice by the learners as an going commitment to expertise .

For 2 and 3 above, ensuring the access to experts on an on-going basis beyond the classroom experience is key to successfully developing expertise and thus 2 and 3 require additional effort in enabling that continued access otherwise it won’t work. 1 however by design should already be accessible on-demand anytime and anywhere as needed and expertise here will develop as learners tap into this resource in response to the needs of 2 and 3.

…more to come

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