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Deep Smarts: How to Cultivate and Transfer Enduring Business Wisdom

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 3, 2004

    Useful wisdom for evaluating & assembling teams

    These talented authors believe not all employees can contribute equally to the bottom line. They argue that those with 'deep smarts' are essential employees and help provide insights so that business managers can better transfer those 'knowledge assets' to others in the company before those with 'deep smarts' leave. Leonard and Swap define 'deep smarts' as accumulated knowledge, know-how, and intuition gained from extensive experience. Deep smarts are more than competence, but 'the ability to comprehend complex, interactive relationships and make swift, expert decisions based on that system level of comprehension but also the ability, when necessary, to dive into the component parts of that system and understand the details.' These individuals have capabilities that those with less expertise do not have, allowing them to interpret small variations in data that elude novices, make decisions quickly, or know when they are encountering a rare event and evaluate its possible outcomes quickly. This level of expertise often requires ten years to develop and they get results that novices and those who are merely expert cannot. Dorothy Leonard, a Harvard Business School emerita professor, and Walter Swap, the former dean of Tufts and a professor of psychology, explored the world of 'knowledge stars' by interviewing people at 35 companies in the U.S., Hong Kong, Singapore, India, and China from 2000-2002. These people include those with 'deep smarts', such as venture capitalist Vinod Kholsa who helped found Juniper Networks, to managers of projects with mixed success rates, such as the Mars Pathfinder missions, and those now anonymous entrepreneurs of defunct Internet companies. The authors dig deep into the structure of these companies to pinpoint how things went right, and where they took a turn for the worse. Not only is the argument sound (deeply expert people matter­) but the chapters are laid out in a practical manner. Each has a 'Keep in Mind' list which can help managers recall the key findings of the study, something you'd want to take stock of when planning for the next year or in evaluating an expensive hire. Some examples include choices involved establishing a trust of talents, why experts fail (overconfidence, an inability to communicate, or even ignorance), and even a list to determine what may be realistic in terms of goals. Swap and Leonard have compiled an impressive set of work on creating, structuring, and sustaining sources of innovation in businesses. Both independently esteemed scholars, their last joint effort, When Sparks Fly is a terrific read about group creativity and its challenges. (Leonard's groundbreaking Wellsprings of Knowledge remains one of the best books around on establishing, sustaining, and protecting corporate innovation.) Deep Smarts provides a useful and an important contribution to business knowledge, because it adds their careful research, clear writing, and their own significant deep smarts to the critical topic of transferring knowledge within a company.

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