Whether it's an application user interface, a piece of equipment, a redesigned process, a marketing strategy, or whatever, when the unexpected occurs, we ask experts to explain how to proceed, or to fix the problem. When they can fix it, that's great, but when they can't, our first thoughts are usually that the expert we called is perhaps not expert enough. That's the easy case, so let's set it aside.
The more difficult case is that the experts we called are skilled enough, and might even be the best there is, but they're expert in the wrong field. How can this happen? What are the consequences? How can we prevent it?
Three important mechanisms can lead to calling the wrong expert.
- Limited authority to choose
- We can't always choose the expert we need. Budget restrictions, signature authority, and expert availability sometimes dictate the choice.
- Control mechanisms and expert availability can both generate risk. Account for this risk in risk plans.
- Incorrect diagnosis
- Sometimes we diagnose the problem incorrectly, either by honest mistake, or by overestimating our own diagnostic expertise.
- Unless you have diagnostic expertise, let experts perform the diagnosis.
- Undue influence by experts
- Sometimes an expert employee, consultant, or contractor recommends an expert, not on the basis of suitability, but as a favor to the expert being recommended, or because of constraints imposed by the recommender's employer.
- Validate recommendations for their objectivity.
Calling in the wrong expert can have serious consequences:
- Wasting time and resources
- Experts (and all people) are vulnerable to what psychologists call a mental set. If the problem solution lies within the expert's domain of expertise, nobody can address it better. But if the problem solution lies elsewhere, we waste time and resources eliminating all possible solutions within the expert's domain.
- Damaging assets
- Before the wrong experts deduce that the problem solution lies outside their domains of expertise, damage to assets is possible. The experts might even be the agents of the damage.
- The one benefit Sometimes we diagnose the problem
incorrectly, either by honest mistake,
or by overestimating our own
diagnostic expertiseof choosing the wrong expert is the potential to learn the importance of choosing the right expert. That learning can lead us to re-examine the expert-choosing process.
To prevent recurrences, consider two measures. First, avoid diagnosing problems. For example, if the computer can't communicate with the network, don't assume that the computer is defective, or that the network connection is defective. Simply report that the computer can't communicate with the network. Second, consider calling on an expert to tell you what kind of expert you need. In healthcare, this role has been called diagnostician, but the role is emerging in many fields. Before calling an expert, find a "diagnostician" for the relevant problem domain.
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More articles on Problem Solving and Creativity:
- Comfortable Ignorance
- When we suddenly realize that what we've believed is wrong, or that what we've been doing won't work,
our fear and discomfort can cause us to persevere in our illusions. If we can get better at accepting
reality and dealing with it, we can make faster progress toward real achievement.
- Annoyance to Asset
- Unsolicited contributions to the work of one element of a large organization, by people from another,
are often annoying to the recipients. Sometimes the contributors then feel rebuffed, insulted, or frustrated.
Toxic conflict can follow. We probably can't halt the flow of contributions, but we can convert it from
a liability to a valuable asset.
- Backtracking in Incremental Problem Solving
- Incremental problem solving is fashionable these days. Whether called evolutionary, incremental, or
iterative, the approach entails unique risks. Managing those risks sometimes requires counterintuitive action.
- Exploiting Failed Ideas
- When the approach you've been using fails, how do you go about devising Plan B? Or Plan C? Here are
some ways to find new approaches by examining failures.
- What Are the Chances?
- When estimating the probabilities of success of different strategies, we must often estimate the probability
of multiple events occurring. People make a common mistake when forming such estimates. They assume
that events are independent when they are not.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming November 30: Avoiding Speed Bumps: II
- Many of the difficulties we encounter when working together don't create long-term harm, but they do cause delays, confusion, and frustration. Here's Part II of a little catalog of tactics for avoiding speed bumps. Available here and by RSS on November 30.
- And on December 7: Reaching Agreements in Technological Contexts
- Reaching consensus in technological contexts presents special challenges. Problems can arise from interactions between the technological elements of the issue at hand, and the social dynamics of the group addressing that issue. Here are three examples. Available here and by RSS on December 7.
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