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Expertise..take a 2nd thought

Here’s a dilemma: You’re a program officer of an NGO station in Somalia, and you get a wire from the head office telling you to show a film featuring an American politician greatly reviled in that country.

If you show it, the locals will find it offensive. If you don’t, the head office back at home will be upset.

What to do?

This is not a hypothetical situation; rather a predicament faced by one of the foreign service officers. The officer recalled that if he showed the film, the NGO buldings would be burned down the next day by about 300 angry students. Yet the head office felt the film was great. What he had to do is figure out how to show the film so that the C.E.O could tell HQ that they had done as they wished, and yet not offend people in the country.

His solution? He screened the movie on a holy day (Idd-Ul-Fitr), when he knew no one could come.

That brilliant bit of common sense exemplifies practical intelligence, a combination of technical expertise and experience. Apart from IQ, our practical skills, along with the technical abilities we master, determine how well we perform on an everyday basis. Whatever our intellectual potential, it is expertise, our total body of specialized information and practical skills that make us good enough to do a particular job.

The most competent doctors, for example, are those who keep expanding their knowledge base by keeping up with current findings and who have a vast reservoir of hands-on experience, and can draw on all this in making diagnoses and treating their patients. This continued drive to keep up to date matters far more in how well they can help their patients than their scores on the entrance exam for medical school.

In large part, expertise is a combination of common sense plus the specialized knowledge and skill we pick up in the course of doing any job. Expertise comes from in the gutter learning. t shows up as an insider’s sense of tricks of a trade-the real knowledge of how to do a job that only experience brings.

Expertise is a baseline competence. You need it to get the job and get it done, but how you do the job-the other competence you bring to your expertise-determines performance.

Supervisor of technical and/or professional workers, for example, need to have some degree of expertise in their area; it would be nearly impossible to manage such work without a reasonable understanding of what people are doing. But that expertise is a threshold requirement. The abilities that distinguish the outstanding supervisors in technical fields are not technical, but rather relate to handling people.

Are you able to translate your expertise into something that’s marketable, that stands out? If not, it makes little difference


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