Unlocking the Expert


Should we strive towards becoming an expert? And should we use experts? It is often assumed that the expert has lost awareness of what he or she knows (go here to read more about this idea). You could also see it as part of the definition of an expert. According to the Dreyfus model, an expert relies on intuition and makes quick decision. In a sense, experts do not try to solve problems, instead they do what normally works. In many situations, this may be enough but there is various problems attached with an inflexible approach to decision-making.

Various approaches can be used to overcome some of the problems. An idea is to let a person who is at the proficiency level watch an expert and try to make sense of what he or she is doing. The aim is to derive rules by studying the expert. However, it is often very difficult to explain what an expert is doing. In innovation, an idea that might be tested is to pair the expert with someone who is not an expert in this field but who is familiar with the basic concepts and language that is used in that particular field.

“If one asks an expert for the rules he or she is using, one will, in effect, force the expert to regress to the level of a beginner and state the rules learned in school. Thus, instead of using rules they no longer remember, as knowledge engineers suppose, the expert is forced to remember rules they no longer use. … No amount of rules and facts can capture the knowledge an expert has when he or she has stored experience of the actual outcomes of tens of thousands of situations. “ Dreyfus & Dreyfus

This is approach of gradually learning from conscious to unconscious knowledge and skills is based upon the idea that consciousness is of an either/or character. However, an expert may successfully use various techniques and methods to overcome some of the problems. An expert may make decisions without reflecting but given time, he or she will consider alternatives. Often an expert is often used in situations when a quick decision is required and this may not be the best way of using an expert. An expert can reflect and explore her assumptions. An expert has built up on enormous amount of experience and consciously resisting the temptation to rely on intuition can enhance the performance.


Kota Hiratsuka is a paper artist who takes into account  shadows and light.

Awareness is most likely not of an either/or character. Using a new approach to a task may help an expert to become more aware. For example, an expert nurse can write down her practical approach for caring for patients and reflect on the practice.  Expert knowledge is something that is built up through the experience of nursing and a practitioner cannot always explain why they followed a particular course of action. Reflection is used to help expert nurses to build new theories, which they should test in practice.

This is also called Reflexive Practice., first coined by Schön. Later, he introduced the concepts Reflection-in-action and Reflection-on-action. Reflection-in-action can be described as the ability of a practitioner to ‘think on their feet’, otherwise known as ‘felt-knowing’. It revolves around the idea that within any given moment, when faced with a professional issue, a practitioner usually connects with their feelings, emotions, and prior experiences to attend to the situation directly. Reflection-on-action on the other hand is the idea that after the experience a practitioner analyses their reaction to the situation and explores the reasons around, and the consequences of, their actions. This is usually conducted though a documented reflection of the situation.

In the video, below we can observe several ways that an expert is working to resist reacting in the “normal way”. Shoe designer Mike Friton, works for Nike, where he uses his expert knowledge to design footwear. He has done this for 30 years and he uses several techniques to challenge his own approach and thinking.

  • Origami expert – skilled at using his fingers to fold paper
  • Uses creative thinking tools – can be observed by his choice of unusual materials
  • Examines different subjects not related to shoe design
  • Explores new techniques – taught himself  to weave
  • Visualizes and imagines designs – creates a pallet of new ideas and concepts
  • Works together with others – the Innovation Kitchen
  • Explore ideas alone by testing them – text style, paper-folding
  • Has in-depth experience and involvement – running excites him
  • Supportive environment – a well-equipped workshop
  • Curious attitude – desire to learn and innovate: “Could this design be better?” “Can I do it in another way?

The Innovator from Cineastas on Vimeo.

Photo  “Head With Key” by ddpavumba

2 Replies to “Unlocking the Expert”

  1. Very cool. I love the whole idea of becoming an “expert” in something – in college, I feel like me and everyone else was just taught that no, you’re not an expert in anything.

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