This Guest paper series was originally published by the Cutter Consortium Agile Product & Project Management Advisory Service in 2009. It is reproduced here, with permission from the publishers (

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Part 1 published here September 2014.

Introduction | Expertise Defined | The Stages of Learning
A Template for Learning | The Training Gap | PART 2

Expertise Defined

As well as being a significant source of problems for organizations, the difference in individual capabilities raises some important questions: How does expertise develop? Are the differences between individuals purely inherent or could changes in the way people are trained and managed bring everyone up to the same level (or at least closer to the same level)? Beyond experience and training, what other elements affect a person's ability to develop expertise?

The starting point for answering those types of questions lies in understanding what expertise is. Although it's a commonly used expression, few are able to give a detailed breakdown of what it really means. Dr. Gary Klein is a world leader on the issue. Klein specializes in the field of naturalistic decision-making (making decisions in real-world conditions rather than in preconceived laboratory experiments) and the processes by which individuals become experts. Klein's findings show that an expert is a person who has, within their domain of expertise, the following eight abilities:[3]

  1. High levels of situational awareness and the ability to see the big picture
  2. The ability to distill patterns out of complex events and the ability to recognize those patterns when faced with similar situations in the future
  3. A detailed understanding of the inner workings that drive events and an understanding of the complex, entwined relationships between cause and effect
  4. The ability to envisage the chain of events that led to a situation and the ability to forecast what will happen in the future
  5. The ability to see events that did not happen (that might have been expected) and other violations of expectancies
  6. The capacity to see differences between situations that are too small for a novice to detect
  7. The capacity to see opportunities and improvisations that would not occur to a novice
  8. The ability to generate many ideas for how to solve a problem or approach a situation

Collectively, these types of abilities are referred to as "higher-order thinking skills".[4] Higher-order thinking skills are the skills that support effective critical thinking, analysis, and problem solving. They represent the high end of the learning food chain.

Introduction  Introduction

3. Klein, Gary. Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions. The MIT Press, 1999.
4. Bloom, Benjamin S. Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals, Longmans, Green, 1956, pp. 201-207.
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