About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The line between beginner and expert and all that other grey area

One of the reasons I haven't written as much on my blog is that my son was preparing to take his driving test (for the second time). An editorial in Parade magazine says it all about how stressful this is.

Yesterday, as my son drove about 40 minutes away to the driving test site, I could actually sit pretty relaxed without feeling the constant adrenaline rush that curses through my body as he makes a mistake such as missing the red light or stop sign as he drives through the intersection, or leaning down to see what was brushing his leg while forgetting to steer (almost ending us in a ditch) or forgetting to slow down as he made the turn. In fact, I felt pretty confident that he would pass the test this time, which he did.

However, as I drove off from the site and he began to talk about all of his driving plans, I suddenly got that adrenaline rush of fear. Yes, now he has his license and he can drive by himself. But who will help him when he meets a situation he has never faced before. Will he panic, as he has tended to do while learning to drive? Now I will be scared for at least another year every time he goes out by himself.

"You will not be driving by yourself except for a few places that I know you are comfortable with," I announced. He rolled his eyes and reminded me he now had his license and in 12 days, when he turns 17, his senior license.

Moving into the intermediate grey zone

As we negotiated his driving privileges, he commented, "You know, mom, I know I still have a lot to learn. I consider myself an intermediate and I still will need to drive with you in the winter until I learn how to drive in the winter or at night. But you have to let me drive by myself, because I'm not a beginner any more."

This got me to thinking about when it is safe to allow someone to do a dangerous task or work that might have serious results without any direct supervision. I think, for example about drawing blood, creating a pharmaceutical IV, cutting lunch meat, or conducting a biotech experiment. In all of these cases, workers eventually will be expected to be on their own with some minimal supervision (periodic check-ins, paperwork, performance review). However, in each of these professions there is a tipping point when the task becomes second nature and the person can handle any unexpected occurrence that is thrown their way. Up until that point, however, the risk of danger is the greatest.

Why? Because the worker will not necessarily look to others for help, feeling that they should know how to do something. In my experience, an expert is more apt to ask for help if he or she feels there might be dangerous results, in part because they recognize the dangerous environment. However, intermediates don't know enough to see the potential danger in all of their actions. Rarely do you hear about the rookie policeman being injured or killed, because he or she has backup to take over, usually a very experienced police officer who has had multiple experiences to draw on. It is the officer on the job 3-7 years who will be injured, because they know enough about the situation to be part of it, but not enough to anticipate all the potential problems.

So how do we support these intermediate workers to help keep them safe or from creating a dangerous situation for others or the organization?

The following are some ideas based on research, based on my own experience:

1. Have multi-experienced teams that intermediate level knowledge workers can access for help and advice.

2. Create an atmosphere of disclosure so workers of intermediate level skills don't feel afraid to tell others when they are overwhelmed with a situation.

3. Create protocols for workers to access in problem situations. Make sure the workers know how to handle any situation using problem solving skills (rather than having a check list of "what to dos", none of which might fit the situation).

This is just a start of the list. I'm wondering how others handle these intermediate levels that can be quite terrifying for a manager AND a parent!

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