Solutions for Retention and Transfer of Knowledge

It is Puzzling

It’s Puzzling

Imagine this scenario: Someone hands you a box full of puzzle pieces. Maybe there are 1000 of them.

Then you make a startling discovery: There is no top. Where is the picture? What picture are these puzzle pieces supposed to form? Since there is no picture on the top of the box, you have no idea.

How disheartened would you feel? You might enjoy the challenge. You might not. Or you might say, “I’ll tackle this puzzle when I have more time to figure this out.”

A Common Trap In Transferring Brilliance: The “Top of the Box” is Missing

This scenario is all too common when an expert puts together notes intended to pass on her knowledge to others:

  1. The expert realizes some of the material she needs to pass on. Writing this knowledge down is a significant first step.
  2. Some of the material the trainee needs will be missing. That is because the expert takes some of the necessary steps for granted. She doesn’t even realize she is taking these steps in her daily work.
  3. What’s more: The expert writes these notes from a specific context. That is akin to an expert knowing the picture on the top of the box. She assumes the trainee does, too. Except that assumption is flawed.

I first learned about the concept of the “Top of the Box” from my friend Irene Donnell from P5Marketing.

The Flawed Assumption is Not the Expert’s Fault

Yet, the flawed assumption is not the expert’s fault. The expert knows too much. She is too close to the subject matter to see that the top of the box’s context is missing. With that, the training becomes, well, puzzling!

Let’s look at an example:

Imagine a person working at the front desk of a dental office. Her boss asks her to write down what she does every day, step-by-step. They become standard operating procedures for the tasks she is taking care of every day, e.g.,

  • Opening and closing the dental office.
  • Checking patients in and out.
  • Taking inventory and restocking.
  • Product sales.
  • Patient discount program.
  • Charts and reports.

As you peruse the write-ups you discover: There is office slang.

For example:

  • Log into Hubspot and do ….
  • Enter the XYZ reward points in the such-and-such system.
  • Use the magnet system for following up with patients.

The problem is a new person may not know what Hubspot is (it is Customer Relations Management software). She may not be familiar with the name of the reward system for loyal patients. And what is a magnet system?

The Big Picture Must Be Clear First

The trainee gets puzzle pieces and does not know what to do with them until there is enough context. In other words: The big picture of where this training is going must be clear first.

Another quick metaphor: Imagine you are driving from San Diego to New York. You have no big picture map. You have no clue that the directions have you go through Phonix, Albuquerque, Oklahoma City, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Columbus, and so on.

Instead, you get a long (!) printout of driving directions. Drive x miles straight, turn left, y miles straight, turn right, and so on. That might a bit unnerving?!

The Take-home Message

The point is: We need that big picture!

Challenge 1: The expert, left to her own devices, cannot paint that picture clearly enough for the trainee to get it. Why? Because she sees the picture so clearly herself, she doesn’t even realize that the trainee doesn’t already have it.

Challenge 2: Once the expert realizes that the big picture needs to be established first it is still hard for her to verbalize it simply enough.

I can think of situations in which I was asked to study puzzle pieces without context. And I often work with clients on overcoming these barriers. It takes fresh eyes, and the courage to ask enough questions until the big picture is crystal clear. From that picture, we can design a training system that works. It provides the means to leverage the expert’s brilliance and makes it immortal.

I’m Curious

Where have you experienced training that did not work well for you? What was the outcome?

And, to what extent have you felt that to do something right, you had to do it? Did the task feel too complex to delegate it to someone else to do it?

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