Courses do not train geniuses; this is how it is done!

Every day, both at work and in our daily life, we meet these people, the skilled and experienced. Also known as the professionals. They are persons that we admire and honor. It can, for example, be the chief at your favorite restaurant, the person at the dry-cleaning, the developer at work or the sports profile on TV. Often you would have liked to be just as good, but if you ask such a person how they do or think, the answers are often quite cryptic or short. A famous example is when the Swedish slalom skier Ingemar Stenmark is interviewed by Åke Strömmer and Ingemar answers the question how he can be so fast. He just answers, “dä ä bar å åk” (I am just skiing).

Do you have the will to learn?

To really become good at something, effort is required in different ways. You need to collect knowledge, learn from your mistakes and successes, establish contact and be social as well as being motivated and committed. One of the most important things is that you are “lär-aktiv”, i.e. you have the will to learn and to develop yourself. As you develop yourself, you safe and slowly climb up Dreyfus’ knowledge ladder. On this ladder, you start as novice to become advanced beginner, competent, professional and finally expert. As an expert within a certain field, you do not consciously deliberate with yourself. Instead you immediately understand the situation and have an intuitive understanding with many concurrent considerations and assessments.

How to transfer implicit knowledge

Now it gets very interesting! We carry out tasks without thinking, and if you should explain to someone what you do, it becomes really difficult. The result is answers comparable with the ones Ingemar provided in the interview. We call tacit knowledge (tyst kunskap), i.e. knowledge that is difficult to describe with words in, for example, how to ride a bicycle or to tie a shoe lace. The question is how to convey this knowledge to others to help them become experts as well. In the past you worked as an apprentice (novice) together with a master (expert), for many years, to learn a craft. When found ready, you had to complete the apprentice’s examination work. If it was approved you received your journeyman’s certificate and you went on a journey to work for different employers to continuously develop and finally become master.

Unfortunately, we have lost the insight about what it means to be experienced or an expert. You study at the university, take classes, go to different seminars etc. but how do you apply this new knowledge? Practical, hands-on exercises where you put your new knowledge into practice. Therefore, it is important to include different exercises in different educations and courses to build working experience. Equally important is to try your skills in different situations and domains. A good example of this is consultants who work actively learning new things to be on the leading edge and work with different customers, in different domains, just like a journeyman.

Use a new method and stretch yourself!

Do not despair, there are methods to ease and facilitate the transfer of tacit knowledge from the experts. Bo Göranzon at KTH have researched the topic and created a method named Dialog Seminars. It is based on reading inspirational texts that gets your thoughts started and you create your own story using analogies and metaphors to share the tacit knowledge on another level. This will open up for a dialogue where you learn from each other.

System Gathering – dynamic meetings for learning

At System Verification, we started something we call System Gathering, to apply these ideas. Many of the most experienced consultants often complain that they do not find any suitable courses. Therefore, we gather our most experienced consultants twice a year to discuss different problems or issues, which they are or have been confronted with. During these gathering the dialogue is the most important instrument to share the tacit knowledge. How do you learn from your experienced colleagues?

Author: Magnus C. Ohlsson, Test Strategist at System Verification.
Phone: +46 73 661 28 60

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