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.
Worthy 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.”
Hold 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.