Re-Learning Can Be More of a Challenge Than Learning for the Master

Group of people and information communication technology concept.

By James Wilt, Distinguished Architect, Best Buy

If the pace at which solutions must get to market is ever increasing, then our ability to deliver must equally change and never fall short of necessary continuous advancement.

That, unfortunately, is not how our human nature works. Here’s an example: Let’s say I’m Mike Brady (of the Brady Bunch) and I’m a great residential architect. No, wait. Let’s say I’m a brilliant residential architect. Top of my class. So good that I designed my own house (see image at right).

I know, my family thinks the same.

Now, let’s say I’m tired of homes and decide to go into commercial property architecture. I’m good. I know it, my clients know it, and my class knows it. Yes, commercial is different, but a building is a building and, I’m good.

After several months, I cannot get one single client after showing design after design after design.

Nothing sold! You’re wondering why as well, right?
Well, my failure goes way beyond a simple facade. In commercial, electrical, plumbing, airflow, and traffic flow are all significantly different, as they should be, from residential.

This is the Mike Brady anti-pattern: A seasoned individual who has mastered skills in one domain attempts to apply them to another similar domain only to obtain far less satisfactory results. Even worse, they may introduce risk because they are applying legacy domain knowledge to a different domain paradigm.

For Masters, Relearning is Harder than Learning

An important part of Mastery is knowing what to do and how to do it flawlessly without thinking. This is beyond muscle memory, it’s a thorough understanding of the domain. Place this Master in a similar domain with completely different rules, and the battle of their well-founded expertise against the logic of the new domain begins.

A significant effort and extended timeline are required for a Master to reassociate their skills to the logic & rules of the new domain. It’s how human nature works.

Anyone learning the new domain with no prior knowledge will have a clear advantage over the Master in the short-term, however, once the Master makes the transition, their mastery of the new domain will come in short order and even excel.

How to Move Forward

As we move forward to transform both our technology model and our workforce, we must address these delicate balances to minimize their impact to our timeline and productivity:

  • Skills in one domain (e.g., hardware, on-premises, etc.) does not equate to equivalent skills in another (e.g., cloud).
  • The time to establish new domain expertise increases with higher levels of existing domain expertise.
  • Forcing resources to change their skills will only disappoint them and you if they are not equally self-motivated.
  • One of the most effective approaches is paired transition periods where resources from the old and new domains work together to lessen the hurdles.

A reminder for Mike Brady and us: Not everyone can or will want to build commercial and that’s OK. There will always be residential work to do

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