How Experts See What the Rest of Us Miss
Experts observe events unfold and discern the critical cues that provide insight for intelligent and intuitive decisions. For organizations concerned with learning and development, attention to how people see the critical events in their industries can pay large dividends in the form of informed decisions and insightful action. To move directly to the point, experts use four techniques to see what the rest of us miss.
First: Focus on the relevant. A primary difference between experts and novices resides in experts' targeted focus on events and information relevant to the decisions making. Rather than casual observers, experts monitor the industry environment with a keen eye on the processes most critical to outcome. For the most part, while novices observe the same series of events, they do not realize the significance of what they are seeing, and are thus not able to respond in ways that lead to superior performance. In a recent research study conducted by our organization, novices identified a wide range of observations and were, overall, as detailed in their descriptions as experts. However, when pertaining to specific information relevant to performance, the experts' were far more focused and saw significantly greater detail. Thus, the perception of experts is sharply focused on the pertinent performance details, and extraneous events are filtered out. Experts focus on specific events that a) impact performance, and b) can be influenced by their decisions and actions.
Second: Draw Inferences from Observations. A second characteristic of expert perception is the ability to make inferences from observed events. This allows experts to anticipate the likelihood of future events. From current observations, experts estimate the probability of future events, and thus are able to speculate on strategic actions most likely to improve future performance. The lack of experience and knowledge inhibits those with less expertise from fully understanding what might or might not happen in the immediate future. In short, what seems like a 'crystal ball' for predicting the future is actually the experts' ability to make inferences regarding the cause and effect of critical cues underlying current events.
Third: Be alerted by the atypical. It is the unusual that triggers the perceptual mechanisms of an expert. The extensive experience accumulated by experts brings with it a comfortable familiarity with the setting. They find the events typically unfolding commonplace. Experts' actions are largely orchestrated as a set of well rehearsed routines and anything out of the 'ordinary' thus becomes immediately obvious to the expert. While a novice sees the same activity, not knowing it was 'atypical', they simply overlook its significance. People with less expertise normally need to consciously monitor an event closely to pick up cues for making decisions. Experts spend far less energy monitoring a situation progressing 'normally' because they are intimately familiar with the environment. In fact, it often appears that the expert is negligent in their observations and monitoring-almost looking bored or cavalier at times. That is far from the case, however, because experts know the situation is playing out normally and as planned. They are, however, fully prepared for the unusual to occur which once analyzed, quickly guides them to their next course of action. When the unusual occurs, experts immediately detect it, quickly make sense of the situation and respond instinctively. In contrast, novices with their limited knowledge and skill often fail to comprehend the implications of unusual circumstances.
Fourth: Analyze critically. Finally, experts critically analyze current performance levels as well as the quality of the activities that influence outcomes. The perceptive eye of an expert is a critical eye. Because they believe their most important challenge is improving performance-the bottom line in most cases-experts observe key indicators (e.g., number of sales calls, efficiency of skill execution) and draw from their knowledge and experience to critically assess what they see. Experts diagnose events with precision and then construct and implement solutions for improvement.
The four keys to seeing like an expert are:
- Focus on events and factors most relevant to performance;
- Draw inferences from observations;
- Tune into the atypical;
- Critically analyzing the events observed.
Combining these characteristics provides an expert with the information permitting them to make insightful decisions greatly impacting the future direction those events take. To improve any skill, one must continually practice. It is no different in learning to see like an expert.