Wisdom Continuity and Transfer – Aiden Choles

There is a scene in the 1999 movie Matrix that illustrates how valuable a quick, easy way of “downloading” knowledge and expertise from experts into our own skills sets would be in our world. Matrix is set in the near future as a computer hacker named Neo discovers that all life on Earth may be nothing more than an elaborate fa√ßade, the Matrix, created by a malevolent cyber-intelligence. A momentous battle ensues as Neo and his motley band of rebel warriors attempt to overthrow the Matrix. As the battle intensifies, Neo and a counterpart, Trinity, are cornered by agents of the Matrix. Standing at the top of a building with nowhere to go there stands a helicopter as an unlikely exit tool ‚Äì but neither of them know how to fly a helicopter. Being a time in the future, Trinity dials from her cell phone into their home base and requests a download of a helicopter pilot programme. With amazing speed the programme is downloaded directly into her brain enabling her to fly the helicopter with no previous training. With little time to spare Neo and Trinity fly off away from the agents to continue the battle.

If only it was this easy in our organisations as we consider how to retain the amassed wisdom of the Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1966, as they begin to retire in the next few years. Imagine how easy it would be to quickly download the years of experience, skills and knowledge in a succinct manner such that the incumbents replacing retirement void could merely “upload” this programme and hit the road running. This is however far from reality as the struggles around succession planning show us.

Something needs to be done though, and organisations have tried their best to facilitate the transfer of experience and knowledge from a “wise one” to a lesser experienced replacement. The typical strategies have involved shadowing processes where the incumbent simply spends a few months with the retiring executive in the hope that what makes the executive so brilliant at their job would be transferred and employed as quickly as possible.

In addition to the complexities of “absorbing” the genius of the Wise one that the incumbents feel, it is a rare occurrence that the Wise one actually knows why they are so good at their job. Like the brilliant teachers we had in school, they are unlikely to be conscious of what makes them so good.

There are two options open to organisations in calm before the looming retirement storm. The first is to persist with succession planning models as usual. The second is to embrace a radical way of facilitating the transfer of wisdom. We call this process Wisdom Continuity and Transfer.

Many have written about the role of knowledge workers in business today. We are finding however that competitiveness in the shifting business landscape is less about knowledge, but more about the wisdom that employees possess and utilise. It is important that businesses learn how to “harness” this wisdom before they lose it. How do businesses capture and transfer the wisdom that is so vital to their competitiveness?

This harnessing process is one in which we help companies find out who knows, what they know, how they know and how to transfer that wisdom. We use the powerful tool of Narrative & Stories to facilitate this process as we capture and transfer Wisdom. The power of narrative is where the difference lies in the older model and the new radical model. It is in the stories of the Wise One’s that the magic of their Wisdom is retained. Stories capture complex forms of knowledge and experience and stories are also easily transferred. The basic elements that the team look out for are:

Heuristics : a comprehensive collection of the “rules of thumb” that the Wise One has accumulated through their careers.

Artifacts : a comprehensive list of the specific tools used by the wise one and how these tools have been used to maximum benefit.

Relationships : A social network analysis matrix of the relationships the Wise One has developed in their Career and how specific Wisdom has been stored and utilized through these relationships.

Natural Talent : A model of the specific talents that have been employed in their career, how these talents have been discovered, developed and utilised.

Experiences : A repository of experience, captured in narrative format, of significant experience that have helped develop their Wisdom and what has been gleaned from the events.

Skills : A description of the skills required in the position and how they are identified and developed in relation to the other Harness criteria.

Story : A compendium of stories of the Wise One captured from the one-on-one sessions that communicate the overall story of the wise one that an incumbent will have access to. It is this story that will provide context for the information gained from the other Harness principles. It is the cornerstone of the Harness process.

The process of Wisdom Continuity and Transfer offers organisations a radical, pertinent, viable model of preparing for the looming retirement boom. It is a process that will make the downloading and uploading, Matrix style, of Wisdom as seamless and relevant as possible.