we are the experts

If work is learning, and learning is the work, why do we need experts responsible for managing it? Do we need learning experts in the network era? Hierarchies and experts have a symbiotic relationship. Without hierarchies, no authority can tell us who is the expert. Were people able to learn before there were hierarchies and experts? Would workers be able to learn today without learning experts?

Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy. But without hierarchy we need to engage with knowledge networks because we are no longer told what to think and do. Our greatest knowledge asset today is our network. Individual expertise is gradually being replaced by cooperative expertise. I have said before that individuals need to take control of their learning in a workplace where they are simultaneously connected, mobile, and global: while conversely contractual, part-time, and local. This is becoming an imperative.

If individual expertise is diminishing in power and reach, so is individual ability to get anything done. Without direction from above we need to set our own direction with the help of our networks. The network learning model shows that we not only have to share knowledge with our work teams but also engage in communities of practice to experiment in how we work, as well as gain awareness from our professional social networks.

The network era is subverting the hierarchies of markets and institutions. Direction emerges from our networks, but slowly and indirectly. Only by engaging our networks can we learn from them. As professionals in the network era, not engaging in communities and networks leaves us at a significant disadvantage. When work is learning, and learning is the work, personal knowledge mastery becomes a core skill. As shown in Tom Gram’s model below, developing expertise takes deliberate practice. As we all become the experts, we are all responsible for our learning.


7 Responses to “we are the experts”

  1. Jeff Ross

    I completely agree with your points above and appreciate the inclusion of Tom Gram’s model. One question you asked was “Were people able to learn before there were hierarchies and experts?” I’ll reply with the question “Was there ever a time without hierarchies and experts?” It seems they have always existed socially.

  2. Mike Pugh

    Thank you for your thoughtful post. You describe a collective, lattice-organized learning environment where all participants reach outside their “tribe” to learn, experience, and apply learning to different contexts. This might question the roles of hierarchy within any organization. My questions are about the leader. Without an expert (who supposedly is vastly experienced and offers “personal knowledge mastery” according to Tom Gram) in a leadership role, isn’t is likely that the team will remain rooted in concentric circles based on their own paradigms? Some people call this a silo. Can’t the expert leader play a role of keeping a focus and direction to the hyperlinked crowd sourcing of learning? I realize that it’s an assumption that the leader is also an expert or has effective experts in play.

    • Harold Jarche

      Leaders have different roles in a networked organization. For example:

      Connectivity Network (social network) – “Weaving — Helping people make connections, increase ease of sharing information”
      Alignment Network (community of practice) – “Facilitating — helping people to explore potential shared identity and value propositions”
      Productivity Network (work team) – “Coordinating — helping people plan and implement collaborative action”
      More: http://jarche.com/2016/08/a-network-perspective/
      Network Leadership Roles

  3. Mike Pugh

    Thank you for your detailed reply. You’re helping me alter my paradigm of the definition of “Leadership”, so please bear with me. I did review “a network perspective”, and I particularly appreciate Patty Anklam’s assertion that a leader is a “network builder”. You then explain that the leader (whomever or whatever that role means) doesn’t so much manage as influences the networking action. I suppose the leader can affect the metabolism through cultivation of a sense of purpose and buy in. That is represented by the upper nodes on the concept web above, correct?

    You have me thinking of Plato and his Allegory of the Cave in connection to a networked organization. Is that too tired of a Western model to hold up to your fresher model that harnesses the potential of technology and collective intelligence? If the network is not in balance, how does the “network builder” initiate change and self-governance without reverting to a traditional leader (openly or covertly)? Otherwise, mutiny could occur in a network of ignorance rather than intelligence. It’s a bit of a conundrum that I’m wrestling with in the networked organization model. Am I completely off track here? Thank you in advance.


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)