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

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Ting Zhang reveals how experts can rediscover the experience of inexperience

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expertsIn a recent study, Harvard Business School doctoral candidate Ting Zhang identifies how experts who are looking to be mentors,  can reverse the “curse of knowledge” and tap into what it was like to learn something new.  She describes two specific actions that experts can take:

  • when learning something new, proactively document the early-stage learning process with the intention of reflecting on the process and using this knowledge later on to help others
  • re-experience what it was like to  be a novice

While not exactly the same as our exploration of Flexpertise, this study reinforces some of the ideas that exploration we talked about during the October gathering.  Specifically, Jens Beckmans  pre-cursers to flexible expertise including that:

  • We take short-cuts to learning which  do exactly that –  they cut short learning.and
  • We do not always know what we do not know
  • Not Relevant trap – the expert passes on what they know and that knowledge can become outdated quickly
  • Anesthesia of familiarity

Erik Dane suggested some ways out of cognitive entrenchment which can also be an expertise trap.  For example, collaboration decreased cognitive entrenchment. The enhanced dynamism of the collaborative group forced decisions and adjustments in response to other people’s perspectives. Such an environment is less predictable, so people are more alert in understanding causality and more engaged in sense-making. Moreover, it triggers a functional level of doubt that fosters flexibility of a beginner’s mind. A provocative idea of “promiscuous pair” programming came from researchers Beck and Andres in 2005. It is a new spin to the standard pair programming, an exercise of one person directing and another person programming on the computer. Simply, people swap partners at regular intervals.

While Tzang’s research focuses primarily on expertise rather than flexpertise, the findings might be practical ways to enable experts in our organizations to be more in touch with the sources of their expertise and share it in flexible ways.   If you are interested in reading more about Zhang’s research and potential opportunities to participate in her research, click this link Read Article



  1. Marga Biller

    March 3, 2015

    Dave Perkins replied to the research and was published on the HBS Working Knowledge Site:

    This intriguing set of findings has a provocative connection to a theme a number of colleagues and I have been pursuing this year in the LILA (Learning Innovations Laboratory) group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, a group of chief learning officers and others with similar roles that engages in inquiry into themes around organizational learning, leadership, and innovation. This year, our theme is “flexpertise,” meaning the flexible deployment of expertise. Expert knowledge has both vertical and lateral potential, vertical potential in the sense of deeper and deeper technical applications and lateral potential to address challenges beyond its most immediate focus. However, the lateral potential tends to get stuck in organizational silos and in the minds of the experts themselves. Ting Zhang’s research concerns experts sharing insights with novices, but some of her techniques seem very relevant to mobilizing lateral pot ential. The barrier is much the same in both cases: much of expert knowledge is tacit. When experts work in their own domains, pattern recognition activates the knowledge, but when experts try to reach outside their specialties, strategies are needed to surface some of that tacit knowledge and make less usual connections. Ting Zhang’s research very helpfully suggests some ways that might be done!

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