The Expertise Paradox

Technical experts become better at solving complex problems when they have networks of professionals with whom to discuss these problems. This is both intuitively obvious and supported by research. Paradoxically, however, competent people need less help from others so they can be less inclined to collaborate.

When you then couple this inherent bias toward lone ranger behavior with a hierarchical culture and/or the narrow focus that many performance management systems have on individual contributions, the result is often a large number of isolated experts.

This can become a problem for organisations because a growing body of work demonstrates how important collaboration is for innovation to flourish – helping to move ideas from development to execution.

Facilitating successful collaboration, especially for technically skilled workers, requires building the right kind of environment and incentives.

Part of the answer can be to change the remuneration arrangements so as to de-emphasise individual outcomes relative to group results. This will remove a potential road block.

Another part of the answer is to show individuals that ignoring the benefits of collaboration can limit their personal growth and achievement. Learning styles provide a useful way to do this. Individuals vary in how they prefer to learn: having a concrete experience; observation of and reflection on that experience; the formation of abstract concepts and generalizations; and, testing hypothesis in future situations.

Working with someone strong in a different part of the cycle can be challenging, but it can also be enormously worthwhile.  Solving the expertise paradox means leaving your comfort zone.