Implications of “Unconscious Knowledge” to the Analyst of any Improvement Stripe

Unconscious Knowledge

The implications of “Unconscious Knowledge” to the Analyst of any Improvement Stripe is huge – and should result in some changes to their specific methodologies.

The bottom line bad news is that people cannot be trusted to be accurate and complete in talking about their work performance even though they may want to share that. That’s because their mind has parked 70% or so, of what they know, in the sub-conscious, so as not to interfere with conscious thought.  Your SME consciously knows only 30% of what they really know.

The bottom line good news is each SME “knows” a different 30% – and can be worked with using that as a baseline assumption: that any SME can only give at best, 30% of what a novice would need to perform the task.

It is what it is – according to the Evidence – and we need to deal with that – that SMEs miss a lot of stuff – that you typically find out in your first delivery/access – if not in your Pilot-Test Phase session, if not in your Development Phase Quality Assurance – and how to minimize the costs and inconvenience of ReWork.

Some videos on this.

Dr. Richard Clark

Note: I’ve edited the 63 minute video – link below – into two segments of Dick Clark discussing Non-conscious Knowledge and CTA – Cognitive Task Analysis.

Watch the shorter version – 41 minutes from the beginning and the end of the 63 minute video – with just Dr. Clark.

Shorter Version

And/or… watch the full 63 minute video with both Dr. Clark and Dr. Allen Munro, Co-directors of USC’s Center for Cognitive Technologies, talk about ongoing research and projects at CCT during a recent Rossier School “brown bag lunch” meeting.

Longer Version

Dr. Roger Schank

2 minutes video

The Implications

The Implications for all Analysts – from any improvement discipline – that go beyond observations – of overt but not covert “behaviors” – in the disciplines of Lean, Six Sigma, Incentives, Instructional Design/Instructional Systems Design, Organization Design, and many, many other solution-sets, include these 4:

  1. A Need to conduct a review of your current state analysis methods and their completeness, accuracy, appropriateness, cycle time, costs and other metrics given their use of SMEs in their methods – and assess for areas of improvement ROI potential
  2. A Need to design a future state set of analysis methods, and then determine the development, implementation and life cycle maintenance needs
  3. A Need to estimate of the ROI Potential for the resource investments to cover the costs of moving quickly to the future state analysis methods of dealing with SMEs more appropriately to gain improved completeness, accuracy, appropriateness, at reduced cycle times and reduced life cycle costs (versus only first costs)
  4. A Need to create a set of Decision and Planning methods on the front-end of Project Planning that takes into account the reality of “Unconscious Knowledge” – and the need for certain approaches for certain levels of completeness and accuracy.

Analysis can include interviews and observations with Experts, Master Performers, etc., but we must be aware that what they give us and even show us while explaining “what they are doing and why” – that what we see hear is partial. Maybe around 30% of what would be needed by a novice if they were attempting to perform a task-set and produce some output that’s an input downstream in one or multiple places.

Even when your Expert is aware and believes that they can only provide 30%, what they know remains at a non-conscious level. Fortunately every expert knows a different 30%-set – requiring multiple experts to be involved.

Most methods to address this remain rather traditional and use interviews and observations.

Most of the time I am doing this using a Group Process – as I have been using as my default approach (unless it is not feasible) since 1980 based on an experience and a set of lessons learned in the middle of a script writing effort for a project on Selling, Selecting and Installing wood windows (at a chain of D-I-Y lumber centers in Saginaw MI) – and I was published in an article that I co-authored and was published in TRAINING Magazine:

CAD – Training Mag – 1984 – 6 page PDF – the first publication about Curriculum Architecture Design via a Group Process – published in Training Magazine in September 1984. Original manuscript (30 pages) – How to Build a Training Structure That Won’t Keep Burning Down.

That article and original work is available – as are many other Publications (Articles, Chapters, Columns) – in the Resources Tab at –

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