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Been there, done that. Are you an expert?

Practitioners drive creativity and innovation in all aspects and types of businesses. They do so through trial and error. So, if we want to innovate, we'd better provide a collaborative learning environment for them.

If you have got a problem to solve in your team, department or organisation, who will you ask for help? Probably an expert. But how do we define “expert” these days?

1. “An expert is someone who knows loads and loads about a certain portion of common knowledge”, writes David B. Black. "Turning to experts is what we do. (...) At a basic level, that’s why we have schools, degrees and certification programs.” However, Black gives us a word of warning: “If you want to innovate, ignore the experts!”

2. Different context: A couple of weeks ago, I asked my industrial engineering students why they decided to enrol for a university programme in addition to their full-time job - if they think the degree will help them advance their career. While most of them were convinced that a university degree was imperative for a fulfilling career, some argued that their practical skills and expertise would become more valuable than a degree in the future.

How are these two stories linked?

First, organisations and investors desperately need innovation. Second, 66% of employees are already hired on experience over academics, according to Knod, with an overall upward trend. Interestingly, the soft skills required from practitioners are communication skills, critical thinking skills, problem solving and social skills. This development is confirmed by several recruiters, among them Jim Stroud, Randstad Sourceright, who in top recruiting trends 2017 states that “it’s how you use things like imagination, leadership, problem-solving and other such intangibles to bring value to a company.”

Introduce a culture of practitioners

Let's think this through: if innovation refers to the act of exploring new ways of doing through trial and error, innovation processes can only be driven by practitioners, rather than traditional experts. So what if practitioners were the new experts? And what if organisations provided a culture of expertise, a collaborative environment that supports trial and error, learning by doing, and sharing narratives that are grounded in fact? Such an environment - a community of practice - would definitely bring forth new benchmarks, which could help businesses overcome investor and/or donor fatigue and encourage their employees to explore new ways of doing. Wouldn’t that be heaven of innovation?

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