entangled expertise

I have never purported to be an an expert. I have some skills and some knowledge, but my greatest asset is my network.

“What the Internet Time Alliance group brought to the table in our engagement, in the person of Harold Jarche, was not only his extensive experience and network, but also the expertise of the rest of the Alliance and their networks as well. While we in our organization have networks of our own, the quality and extensiveness of the ITA network added a value that we would not have been able to tap alone, and led us to a superior solution that will better serve our customers.” — Corporate University Manager within Fortune 500 Health Insurance company

Hierarchies and experts have a symbiotic relationship. But individual expertise, in a single field, is gradually being replaced by collaborative expertise. The expertise in any given field developed as a result of the Enlightenment is insufficient to deal with the wicked challenges of the Entanglement.

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.

A recent research paper — Orthodoxy, illusio, and playing the scientific game — looked at why it took so long for the mainstream medical community to accept that the SARS-CoV-2 virus is predominantly spread as an aerosol and not through surface transmissions. Experts in medical infection control ignored knowledge from outside their narrow sub-field — “Aerosol scientists—typically, chemists, and engineers—representing the heterodoxy were systematically excluded from key decision-making networks and committees.”

The only thing harder than getting a new idea into the mind of an expert, is getting the old idea out.

“Unlike the Enlightenment, where progress was analytic and came from taking things apart, progress in the Age of Entanglement is synthetic and comes from putting things together. Instead of classifying organisms, we construct them. Instead of discovering new worlds, we create them. And our process of creation is very different … As we are becoming more entangled with our technologies, we are also becoming more entangled with each other. The power (physical, political, and social) has shifted from comprehensible hierarchies to less-intelligible networks.” —… Long Live the Entanglement

One expert is merely a node in a network. We need to engage and create subject matter networks, with expertise in a wide variety of disciplines. It is also worth noting this advice from Valdis Krebs, “All experts are part of one or more sub-networks in larger networks… and these sub-networks may/do not always agree with each other.” Sensemaking in an entangled world is hard work.

Image via @MayaDroeschler

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3 Responses to “entangled expertise”

  1. Valdis Krebs

    Thanks for the mention, Harold!

    Another one of my favorite sayings is an adaptation of William Gibson’s famous quote — “the future is already here, it is just unevenly distributed.” If we substitute “knowledge” for the “future” his quote also works.

    You mention the mainstream medical community and how the coronavirus was thought to spread. Amongst my contacts at the CDC, everyone thought that it was an airborne contagion just like TB. That part of the medical community knew what was going on, but that knowledge was NOT evenly distributed across all medical communities. Washing hands was a distraction (but still a good thing to do), curbing our aerosol spray (with masks) turned out to be a much better intervention.

  2. Valdis Krebs

    Excellent points Harold! Yes, too much focus on the individual in our society and not enough on the group. Obsessive focus on the individual is fine if you are a hermit living in the woods by yourself. But if you live with others, then the family/group/community matter — you to them and them to you. Together we breathe the same air.


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