Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Knowledge versus skill - sports analogy

IMG_2822 In my previous blog post I used a sports analogy for "Learning Before , During and After". Let's continue the analogy, and look at the difference between knowledge and skills. Every sports person develops individual skills. They learn how to kick, how to throw, how to bat, how to tackle, how to scrummage and so on.

However even the most skilful players in the world cannot awlays perform at the top level if they don't know how to play together as a team. We see this every summer with the Barbarians Rugby team.

This is a team made up of the best players in the world - the most famous names in world rugby. "Membership is by invitation and the only qualifications considered when issuing an invitation are that the player's rugby is of a high enough standard and secondly that he should behave himself on and off the field" (Wikipedia).

You would instinctively expect a team made of the best players in the world to win every match, but they don't, and in fact have lost 5 out of their last 6 games (see scoreline in the picture above, for example).

What the other teams have developed is Knowledge - knowledge to how to play together as a team. It's all very well knowing how to kick, how to pass, how to tackle and how to run, but you also need to know when to pass, who to pass to, when to kick, where to aim your kick, who to tackle, and so on. The Barbarians match is a contest of skill v knowledge, and skill often does not win*.

As I explained yesterday, there is another aspect to team knowledge, and that is knowledge of the opposition team, and to this we can knowledge of the referee. Such knowledge comes through discussion and team analysis, and is largely tacit.

Knowledge of team drills and team strategies, on the other hand, may be recorded in the team playbook, and thus be made explicit. The playbook must be kept secret, as it would be an invaluable source of knowledge for the opposing teams.

So, lets translate into business terms.

Even the most skillful team in the world will not necessarily perform well unless they
a) know how to work together
b) know the processes by which they will work - the "plays and drills" (which should be recorded for future application - the "playbook")
c) know how to beat the opposition
d) know how to "play the ref"

Training and coaching is how individuals develop their skills, Knowledge Management is how a team develops their knowledge.

* This is of course an oversimplification. The Barbarians are also knowledgeable, and their opponents are also skilled. However Barbarians selection is based on skill and reputation, rather than any experience in playing together. 

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