LILA ~ Learning Innovations Laboratory at the Harvard Graduate School of Education

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Last Year’s Focus

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The starting point for our exploration of flexpertise was recognition of the incredible power of expertise. Our world runs on expertise – technical, political, economic, management, etc. Any one of us can live a good life knowing only a little about microcircuits or international finance or water shortages because other people know a lot, and we benefit from their knowledge. Departments in organizations can get away with knowing only a bit about X or Y because some other department or an outsourcer does it expertly. It’s a wonderful and amazing system.

However, as individuals and organizations, we often don’t make the best use of expertise. Expertise sometimes isn’t enough, or isn’t utilized effectively, in the face of change, uncertainty, and the unknown. Success in many of today’s marketplaces increasingly depends on adaptability – the ability to shift thinking and action to better suit changing environments. And adaptation is difficult. Fast-changing environments that call for speedy execution can lure groups into competency traps, tunnel vision, and missed opportunities for change. Expertise that may have succeeded in solving problems of the past may prove useless when facing novel and creative challenges.

Effective performance in these changing environments requires “flexpertise.” When individuals or organizations have “flexpertise,” they can deploy expert as well as key basic knowledge flexibly and effectively, especially in the face of changing circumstances and the unknown.

This theme will explore key questions about the nature of individual and collective forms of flexpertise and how leaders and organizations can better develop it. It will seek to answer question such as: What are the benefits and drawbacks of expertise? How do experts get stuck? What is flexpertise? Why is it important? How is it developed in individuals, groups, and organizations? What are the conditions that trigger the awareness to apply expertise more creatively or flexibly, or to even veer away from the expert answer? Members will engage with a broad range of researchers from cognitive and social sciences, organizational development, and with provocative case studies from a variety of settings as we explore our three sub-topics.

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Harvard Graduate School of Education