Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance

by | Sep 14, 2017 | Collaboration, Reviews

It is not often that I publish a review of a book published in 2006 but the Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance deserves it. Over the last year or so I have collected a significant number of books and research papers on the subject of expertise because it seems to be a hot topic in both the search technology and the knowledge management communities even if these communities seem not to be talking to each other about it.

The first thing that strikes you about the book is its size, running to close on 900 pages and required some rearrangement of my bookcases. The work of over 1800 researchers is cited in the book and the index alone is 80 pages long. The concept of expertise certainly dates back to the scholars’ guilds of the 12th and 13th centuries and to the master builders responsible for the great religious buildings of the world. Much of the book is about how experts become experts. As a pianist and organist I am constantly amazed by the skills of young players still at school. Not only do they have adult-level virtuosity but also a level of musicianship that cannot be obtained from just playing an instrument but only by being able to play so well that they can listen to the sounds and communicate to an audience. How did they acquire these skills? This topic is addressed at length in this book and in a more recent book from CUP on The Neuroscience of Expertise.

Within the enterprise the challenge is not just about defining and finding experts but finding experts who can communicate their expertise to others. That is a very different skill. You can see it in action in many (though by no means all!) of the TED talks. It is well illustrated every year in the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures on science for children and perhaps no where better than by Leonard Bernstein in presenting the history of music in just five minutes.

Like ‘relevance’ expertise is relative. So not only is there a challenge of deciding whether or not a person is an expert but also about which of two or more people is the most expert. A question you should ask any vendor offering to find the experts in your organisation is on what basis are they able to say that the characteristics they are tracking differentiate not only experts from non-experts but also which experts are the most expert. Certainly identifying expertise is important to an organisation and technology has a role to play, but as I discuss in my report on People and Expertise Search that is only one element in the process of capitalising on expertise.

The good news (at least for me) is that the second edition of the Handbook is due to be published in June 2018.

Martin White