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CultureFeb 27, 2017

The Curse of Knowledge

Carlos Rodriguez

As an entry-level technology consultant, there is an extreme emphasis on the importance of learning quickly and efficiently. Whether you are on the bench studying a new architecture for your upcoming project or reviewing the fundamentals of a legacy solution for a flywheel client, the learning never stops. The opportunity to learn a significant amount within a short window can be motivation for recent college graduates looking to refine their resumes. In my short tenure at Credera, I’ve had the chance to absorb a great deal from a strong team as I hope to sharpen my own skills.

However, all consultants must also possess the ability to teach others and teach them well; knowledge management is an important and often under looked cornerstone of consulting. More specifically, experienced consultants assisting the newer members of their teams should seek to present information in an accessible and encouraging manner. They must overcome the “curse of knowledge,” or the inability to remember what it was like to not know something.

If you ask a veteran web developer to create a responsive web page, they will likely approach and understand the task given to them in a very different way than a shiny new hire straight out of school. The difference in the way these two individuals approach the task has fundamentally basic roots. Carl Wieman in American Physical News writes that brain imaging shows problem solving regions in our brains form different pathways and show distinct activation patterns once mastery is achieved. It almost goes without saying that both the veteran and the new hire will deliver different web pages. Further, within their own frame of mind, they might be solving a different problem altogether as they seek to complete their task.

Fighting the Vicious Cycle

As new team members gain knowledge, they too can fall into the trap of the curse of knowledge. As they begin teaching others, they must keep in mind where they started in order to relate to the next round of employees who are just beginning.

So how can we do this? How can we enable efficient onboarding and ensure we teach as effectively as possible?

For one, we can document all we do. This is not only a great practice in terms of performance management but also in terms of knowledge transfer. Teaching a new team member becomes as simple as walking them through a document you created when you were less experienced. It enables you to remember what it was like when you first waded through those waters and the questions and concerns you may have had during that time.

We can also encourage questions. We should cultivate an environment in which people feel comfortable admitting where they need help in order to build their skills in the future. When starting out, there are no dumb questions, and it is essential that team members reassure each other of this.

Most importantly, we must be willing to recognize that learning is much more than bulldozing the newest member of the team, hoping the knowledge will stick. Instead we should take the time to realize that learning is a process of restructuring, with hopes of igniting a new team member’s desire for knowledge and paving the way to expertise.

My Experience

I was recently working with a very large, very important client at Credera. At a high level, we were assisting in the data migration of a recent acquisition. The mass of servers, environments, credentials, tools, and people was overwhelming, but the data migration team was excited and prepared to welcome a new team member. For every task I was assigned, I was given a document laid out in a logical case manner: “If you see this, you’ll want to do this” or “If you don’t see this, this is probably what happened” (we are all developers after all!). At the header of each document was the server I should be pointing to and the environment I should be in. In some cases, I needed to reach out to someone on the client’s team. At this point, one of my team members had forwarded me an email that demonstrated the correct format and recipients of the email. Throughout the onboarding process, there was a palpable sense of urgency. After all, there was work to be done. However, the need for extra capacity never trumped the necessity of a well-versed and confident team member.

Moreover, the data migration team was cognizant of potential information overload. They recognized that a comprehensive lecture detailing the entire migration solution was not necessary for the work I would be doing. Instead, they exceled at simplifying the task assigned to me, then later explaining the wider role I played in the migration. It was encouraging for me to walk into Credera and this client, and feel at ease; to feel comfortable asking questions and learn at an unprecedented pace.

Therefore, knowledge should not be a curse. It should be used as a tool to encourage teamwork and to create lasting networks of information that help the company grow and respond to their clients with a high level of excellence and expertise.

About: Carlos Rodriguez is a consultant at Credera. He enjoys learning about new technologies and building relationships while working toward efficient, modular solutions. Read more about Credera’s perspective here.

LIFE AT CREDERA

We’re “open-sourcing” the Credera culture in a series called Life at Credera. We are sharing an authentic perspective on what we are learning and where we are growing. We are talking about friendships and fungrowth, higher purpose, talent and character, leadership, and communication.

We hope this series is a helpful resource on the continuous pursuit of a great culture. And we hope the results are encouraging to our company, employees, clients, and friends.

Looking for more? Check out these great Life at Credera perspectives:

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