Laboratory worker at the research laboratory at the C & NW RR's 40th Street yard, examining paint samples used on freight cars and coaches of the railroad, Chicago, Ill. (LOC). By Delano, Jack.

When Experience Won’t Hack It

E. Forrest Christian Careers, Theory Leave a Comment

At the last GO Society conference in Toronto, Owen Jacobs of the US Army talked about how the MCPA (Modified Career Path Assessment) didn’t actually measure capability but more potential. (See video of Owen Jacob’s presentation) Well, duh, of course.

Experience is the key to capability. If you have high capacity but not chance to gain experience, your level of capability (what you can do now) will lag behind your level of capacity (what you have the capacity to do, if you had the knowledge and skills [experience]).
Jacobs makes the point that capability requires experience. Gary Klein, who also did a lot of work with the US military, calls it the Recognition Primed Decision Model: we use patterns that we have seen before to recognize what is going on in this current situation. Experience is required to provide those patterns. Potential Capability provides the insight necessary to recognize or apply patterns across domains. Jacobs points out that what they measure as high-potentials on the MCPA were people who were very widely read.

Even though many high-potentials are denied the opportunity to do higher level work, their capacity still develops. They are constantly making connections, developing a pattern recognition database, in whatever life they live. And they learn patterns at extraordinary rates compared to others, once they are given the right work to do.

For more on Gary Klein, see “Time Horizon and Decision Making“. It’s odd that I’ve not written about him more. His book, Sources of Power, influenced my thinking greatly and I’ve read almost everything that he has published. Much of his work is available for free from the United States Dept of Defense.

More on Recognition Primed Decision (RPD) Model:

  1. Thomas Killion, “Decision Making and the Levels of War” [PDF]: Article describes RPD
  2. , July-August, 2004, by Karol G. Ross, Gary A. Klein, Peter Thunholm, John F. Schmit & Holly C. Baxter. The recognition-primed decision model (at FindArticles). Military Review article in-depth.
  3. Lt. Col. Kelly A. WolgastCommand Decision Making: Experience Counts. Somewhat flawed overview of RPD in military decisions.
  4. Eric Nehrlich, “Review of Klein’s Sources of Power“. Nehrlich is interesting in a lot of ways, and I’ve somehow lost him. Getting him back on my newsreader.
  5. Klein et al “Macrocognition” in IEEE Intellligent Systems, May/June 2003.

Laboratory worker at the research laboratory at the C & NW RR’s 40th Street yard, examining paint samples used on freight cars and coaches of the railroad, Chicago, Ill. (LOC). 1942 by Jack Delano via Library of Congress Collection.

About the Author

Forrest Christian

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E. Forrest Christian is a consultant, coach, author, trainer and speaker at The Manasclerk Company who helps individuals and companies find insight and solutions to what seem like insolvable problems. Cited for his "unique ability and insight" by his clients, Forrest has worked with people from almost every background, from artists to programmers to executives to global consultants, both as individuals and as leaders of organizations at least as diverse. [contact]

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