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Unlocking expert knowledge to create scalable learning

Katherine Shao
VP Sales Enablement Practice
Unlocking the knowledge of experts is key to creating scalable learning experiences. But it can sometimes feel like releasing ideas from an “idea jail.”
December 18, 2020

Driving innovation and change at work has become part of the new normal. So many shifts have happened that businesses are in catch-up mode, trying to find ways to broaden the capability of their people to constantly adapt and change.

At Oxygen, we’re lucky to be able to work with many different kinds of innovators who have been able to use their expertise to solve business problems for sellers, solution architects, customer service pros, and support leads. Many of these Oxygen partners are just amazingly good at their job. And the companies they work for want to scale this in-house expertise, so that more people can learn from the knowledge these high performers have to offer.

But experts often struggle to explain how they do what they do. They are highly effective through their own unconscious competence. Their ability to create new things—and think of new ideas—is so intrinsic that asking them to stop, to take a step outside themselves and convey what they are doing, is next to impossible. 

So how do we bridge the gap between where people are and the knowledge and skill of the experts? How do we get their knowledge and skill to work for others who need to learn from them?

As much as our expectations in our work culture might desire it, there is no Easy Button to bring an expert’s knowledge to life. We experience the benefits of the hard work that drives innovation in our devices, our cars, our health, and our standard of living—but rarely do we see what goes on behind the scenes to bring that innovation to our doorstep. And it’s hard to appreciate something that’s invisible to us.

The experts in any company are usually busy and overburdened. They are usually so overwhelmed doing what others don’t understand, that they don't have the time to unpack what they are doing or how they think. Nor are they able to take time to convey their knowledge to others. And so, their catalytic thinking enters into a vicious cycle: 

Only they know how to use their expertise. So they carry the burden of doing it. In the process of doing it, they develop more expertise—but only they know how to do it. So they carry the burden even more.

Another way to think of this phenomenon is: The knowledge of experts is shackled inside of Idea Jail.

The irony of Idea Jail is this: an expert's unconscious competence remains tethered to them, due to the burdens placed on them by the very knowledge that makes them valuable.

Idea Jail then gets reinforced by an organization's culture or operating model, which may not have the processes or ways of working needed to extract, formulate, and transport knowledge from its experts. 

Idea Jail causes burnout and overwork for the expert and missed opportunity for the business. It's a lose-lose situation.

To enable more people within a business to drive innovation and change, we need to help those experts get their knowledge out ofIdea Jail. It takes time to work with them and extract their knowledge, break it down, and reassemble it into content that colleagues can use in the flow of routine work.

Extracted, formulated expert knowledge from experts is the foundation of any enablement program designed to scale capabilities within an organization. If you don’t have a way to formulate what they’ve become great at, you are leaving opportunities and capabilities on the table and trapping expertise within a small tribe.

Interested in learning more about this topic? Watch our Webinar: How to Shape a Seller-Centric Mindset in the face or Rapid Change

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