Tacit to explicit, or, it’s a PIP

The late Claude Lineberry once said something like “87% of ISPI presentations mention Tom Gilbert’s Human Competence but that only 13% of the presenters have read it.”   I’m not sure how deeply Butch researched the data, but talking about knowledge work, concept work, and exemplars prompted me to reopen my copy.

Gilbert offered several “leisurely theorems” that offer much more promise than contact hours or learning styles.

Gilbert's first leisurely theoremWorthy performance, he said, is the ratio of valuable accomplishment to costly behavior.

“Great quantities of work, knowledge, or motivation, in the absence of at least equal accomplishment, are unworthy performance,” he wrote.

In other words: is the expected result worth the cost?   (Ask the folks at Daimler-Benz about that merger with Chrysler.)

To Gilbert, the pyramids are “silent monuments to worthless achievement,” because of the great cost in effort.   “A really worthy, though less honored, achievement…was the alphabet, a labor-saving device of incalculable worth.”

Gilbert's second leisurely theoremHold onto that idea of worth meaning the value of the accomplishment (the result) divided by the behavior (the cost of achieving it).   Gilbert used it to develop what he called the PIP — the potential to improve performance.

That’s the ratio between the worth of the results that exemplars produce and the results that typical performers produce.   One of the corollaries: the greater the PIP (in other words, the gap between exemplar and average), the easier it is to improve performance.

That’s because most exemplars are not born program managers or chief engineers or aircraft-engine salespeople or pension analysts.   Instead, they’ve acquired and integrated a range of skill and knowledge that they apply to produce worthy accomplishments.

Which means it’s possible to identify the knowledge and the skills, and to study when and how they’re applied.   In turn that enables typical performers to improve, closing the PIP.   Arthur C. Clarke may have been right when he said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic — but that’s only until you see how the technology works and start doing things with it yourself.

Not all tacit knowledge can become explicit, but some can, and that paves the way to acquire more.

Gilbert didn’t mean you could turn everyone into an exemplar.   What he did mean is that large gaps appear more daunting than they are.   If your average golf score is 140, and the average pro is at 70, your PIP is 2.   Coaching and practice could easily get you to, say, 105 — which reduces the PIP to 1.5 and represents a tremendous improvement in your average.

Many web 2.0 tools demonstrate Gilbert’s theorem.   They combine access to knowledge (through networks) with technology that eliminate drudgery and theoretical prerequisites.   I know I wouldn’t be blogging if I had to code my own PHP — because my desire (or capacity or availability) to become competent in server-side HTML embedded scripting language is… limited, let’s say.

Thanks to WordPress, its online codex, and its user forum, though, I have a powerful, flexible platform for creating and managing online content that my undergrad degree in English didn’t foresee.

3 thoughts on “Tacit to explicit, or, it’s a PIP

  1. Kia ora Dave

    Wonderfully simple formulae, these are. I like the ideas.

    I suspect, though, that like all useful expressions or formulae that have some scientific association, they are perhaps too simple but none-the-less very useful.

    A similar equation that could be applied could be:

    W = U/C (W:worth, U:usefulness, C:complexity)

    Any of these guidelines reliy on its parameters that have measures to be determined subjectively. Many would and could argue that the worth of the pyramids is in their iconic beauty, and their awesome presence that has stood the test of time, almost as long as the alphabet.

    I’d argue that the usefulness of the alphabet has well eclipsed the usefulness of the pyramids, but again, these are parameters that have subjective quantities associated with them. Like comparing bananas with steel bolts. A major material parameter used quantitatively as a comparison is mass, but that is not necessarily a useful comparator.

    Catchya later
    from Middle-earth

  2. Ken, I don’t think Gilbert was unmoved by the sheer impressiveness of the pyramids. He was, however, hell on wheels when it came to the many ways in which organizations work against getting the best performance out of their people.

    Look at the first generation of online learning — the endless courses that married repurposed PowerPoint with HTML, sealing the match with good old “click next to continue.” Ample sound and fury spent on pointless animation and lamebrained interaction (“Terrific, Dave! You’re right — the sales process does involve the customer.”

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