Dr. Ting Zhang shared her research with the LILA Community.
We have the pervasive problem of the expert-novice gap. Consider an illustrative example from an interview with a medical student. During her first weeks, she admits that she did not know something basic when she walked into the operation room: “where do I stand.” Her attention would be better directed on the substantive procedures in the OR. Experts find it difficult to relate to novices, though they themselves were once novices. This is because one, they have imperfect memory which leads them to mistakenly think that they have always known what they know now. Two, experts are victims of the curse of knowledge, so they assume the uninformed parties are knowledgeable. Three, difficult processes have become automatic for experts, and experts underestimate the amount of time it takes novices to learn.
Intervention studies have illuminated more about the expert-novice gap. Ting asked students that finished summer internships (students who were “1-month” experts) to give advice to inexperienced, interns-to-be. These 1-month experts were put into different conditions. One group was asked to simply recall their internship experience prior to giving advice to novices, and the other group was asked to rediscover their experience by reading their personal journaling of their experience during their 1-month internship prior to giving advice to novices. Novices rated the advice that came from experts that had rediscovered their experience to be more helpful.
The next intervention study pushed this further by conditioning a group of experts to rediscover just the emotional experience of a novice. Guitar players with more than 3 years of experienced were asked to flip the guitar and play with their non-dominant hand. This experimental group and another control group of experts were then shown a video of poor guitar performance of a novice and were asked to advise him. The control group gave vague, discouraging, and non-actionable feedback. The experts who had experienced the emotional pains of a novice (by playing the guitar with their non-dominant hand) gave advice, which were more specific, actionable, and encouraging.
Synthesis of Small Group Conversation
It may be difficult to implement the first intervention of “full rediscovery” of reviewing journals because people are asked to do “one more thing” (document their experience) which does not immediately benefit them. This intervention requires personal motivation (i.e. wanting to have a detailed chronicle of major event to help someone else who may also go through it). Without such motivation, it’s difficult for the company to foster similar behavior.
We explored the possibility of reading someone else’s journal account of a novice experience (so that not everyone has the burden of journaling). While easier to implement, the effect of such an intervention is mild as experts do not engage as well with personal writing that is not their own.
However, the second intervention with the use of “emotional rediscovery” (using the non-dominant hand) provides a venue for feasible solutions to the expert-novice gap. One idea we were optimistic about was the idea of using the “letter to my younger self” as another intervention. This is literally the act of writing to your younger self. This may put the expert in the mindset of their past novice selves. This is the important key: how do you shift an expert’s mindset to understand that of a novice?
Reverse mentoring puts the leader in a novice’s mindset. Consider the example of a senior leader having to learn social media from twenty-somethings. It makes the expert vulnerable and in the mode of a novice. In additional to addressing the point on awakening the expert’s emotional vulnerability, or emotional rediscovery, we may consider the challenging them with learning technical aspects so they may remember what they did not know how to do.
There was a list of other good ideas. Experts are very much in touch with the stories of their failure. Such stories make the novice feel closer to the expert. Experts who give good advice know when the novice would be confused and make that explicit in their mentoring. Experts should consider just asking a lot of questions to the novice first. There is a tendency for the expert to try and address the novice’s question right away when they come for help. However, much more can be gained from the expert asking the novice. An important question is to ask the novice, “how did you get there?”, “there” refers to the point of coming to that question, or conclusion. Understanding the novice’s journey can help the expert understand the novice’s mindset.
Perhaps, the expert-novice gap must consider who the appropriate expert is. Should the gap between the novice and the expert be one, two, or three levels? Choosing the appropriate expert level would be the first step.
- The key to closing the expert-novice gap is getting the expert to understand the mindset of a novice.
- Not all experts are the same, and not all expert-novice gaps are the same. Finding the right level of expert is important.