The Psychology of Expertise
James Shanteau, psychology professor at Kansas State University, is an expert on the topic of 'experts'.
He has been studying expertise since the the 1970's - particularly the decision making of experts.
"I'm more interested in the superior performance. There is much to be learned so that we can all be more effective and do our jobs better," Shanteau said. "By extracting this information, we can teach others so they can be more successful in pursuing professional careers."
Shanteau's definition of an expert is 'a professional who sets the standards
for the job; someone who establishes a clear path for others to follow'.
Shanteau described a number of components required of an expert decision
1. Knowledge. An expert must develop a knowledge base and be experienced and educated in his or her field.
"To be an expert, you have to know a lot," Shanteau said. "It's a lifelong commitment. You have to keep studying -- you don't stop."
2. Ability to Apply Knowledge. Experts must be able to use their knowledge and apply it appropriately to whatever situation they may encounter.
"At one point, I might have thought that knowledge was all you needed to be an expert," Shanteau said. "But we have plenty of studies of individuals who have high knowledge, but who don't have the ability to apply that knowledge."
3. Make the Right Choices. Once an expert has figured out the right knowledge to apply, one must be able to make the right choices -- which is not a matter of simply picking options. Rather, an expert is able to define the options.
"The choice is being able to identify the right path and the right direction," Shanteau said. "An expert might present an opportunity and say 'Here is the problem and this is a way we can approach it.'"
4. Never Quit. Experts never give up and never quit thinking or re-thinking. Once a decision has been made, experts go back over the decision and evaluate how to make it better. They never stop probing their own skills.
"An expert never stops thinking ahead," Shanteau said. "Experts may say 'Well, I made it this time, but if I'm ever in that situation again, what would I do?'"
Shanteau also is exploring how distributed teams - teams that are spread around the country or even the world -
work together. His work has focused on the development of expert teamwork in the U.S. Air Force.
"People who are individually very skilled may or may not be able to work well together," Shanteau said. "It's not that they don't know how to do their job; we are dealing with coordination issues."
"It's very difficult to work with somebody when you're not there," Shanteau said. "You have no eye-to-eye contact and no body language. The only way to communicate with them is by phone or through a computer."
Shanteau highlights a number of components that go into the development of an effective team:
* Communication. "Developing a clear communication between team members goes beyond talking back and forth," Shanteau said. "It's a clear communication as an understanding of each other."
* Mental models. Mental models are the ways people conceptualize the world in general as well as in the specific jobs they are doing. People on a team must have similar mental models to work together.
"If we are going to be working together, I need to know what it is you are thinking and vice-versa," Shanteau said.
* Understanding. Effective teams often have a high level implicit degree of understanding of one another. Although people do not have to do the same thing, they must have an understanding of each other's actions.
"When a team has worked well, I know what you're going to do and when you are doing it, and you know what I am going to do and when I am doing it," Shanteau said. "When this happens, we can start working very well together because we can exchange information." People who work well on a team have reached that level of understanding when they can finish each other's sentences, Shanteau said.
* Cooperation. Watching out for each other is a key aspect of teamwork. Team members must be able to recognize when another is in need of help and be willing to offer help wherever it is needed.
"If I can see that something is not right, then I can lend a hand or step in to help you do part of your task. I can relieve part of your load, knowing that, if in reverse, you would do the same for me," Shanteau said.