Deep Smarts

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Deep Smarts

by Dorothy Leonard and Walter Swap

Harvard Business School Press © 2005, 288 pages, $29.95 (ISBN 1-59139-528-3).

How to Cultivate and Transfer Business Wisdom

Deep smarts are not simply IQ or talent. Instead, according to Harvard Business Professor Dorothy Leonard and Tufts University Psychology Professor Walter Swap, they are a potent form of experience-based wisdom that drives both organizational competitiveness and personal success. In their book, Deep Smarts, Leonard and Swap provide a deeper look at the interrelationships among knowledge, competitive advantage and continuous innovation. They explain that what makes deep smarts so competitively valuable is that they are built on firsthand life experiences, resulting in tacit knowledge that is hard for other organizations to copy.

Over the past several years, the authors have conducted a research project in which they observed and interviewed coaches and their protégés in startups and older firms. Deep Smarts presents the results of their research and reveals how deep smarts can be cultivated and leveraged throughout an organization, including how deep smarts emerge from the development of “experience repertoires” guided by knowledge coaches.

The Engine of Your Organization

According to the authors, deep smarts are the engine of your organization, and you cannot progress without them. By understanding what they are, and how they are built, cultivated and transferred, they write, you will be able to manage more effectively. They also add that the people in your organization who have deep smarts form the basis of your organizational viability.

Deep smarts are based on know-how and know-what, the authors write, as well as “the ability to comprehend complex, interactive relationships and make swift, expert decisions based on that system level comprehension but also the ability, when necessary, to dive into component parts of that system and understand the details.” Deep smarts are not something you learn in college alone, they explain, “but they can be deliberately nourished and grown and, with dedication, transferred or recreated.”

Deep Smarts was written for general managers who believe that investments in organizational learning and in people will grow profitability, the authors write, as well as those who believe that developing the next generation of leaders is an important part of their job.

The authors explain that deep smarts are formed and influenced internally by who we are, which includes our personal background, education and upbringing. In addition, they are also formed by external sources, which include other people who coach us directly and those we admire and emulate. Deep smarts also come from a buildup of knowledge, and are based on experience-based expertise as well as that of others, and can be used to quickly sum up a situation and render a decision. This includes the use of networks to solve problems. The authors also write that the process of shaping plays an important role in deep smarts — they are socially constructed forms of expertise, so they include our own convictions about what is real and true as well as whatever beliefs and assumptions we accept from those we admire.

Beliefs and Assumptions

Throughout Deep Smarts, the authors describe not just the importance of cultivating and transferring deep smarts, but also offer crucial tips to help managers build deep smarts through experience; ways deep smarts can be developed and expressed; and ways deep smarts can be shaped through beliefs, assumptions, social influences and cultural belief systems.

Deep Smarts then describes how deep smarts can best be transferred from experts and coaches to their protégés and peers, as well as ways the experiences of protégés can be guided so they can create their own deep smarts.

According to the authors, the following points should be kept in mind:

• Observing deep smarts in action is an effective way for an expert to transfer knowledge. But modeling becomes even more effective when the coach guides the protégé to reflection on what has been observed.

• Guided observation is also a tool for forcing unlearning, that is, the relinquishing of assumptions and cognitive habits.

• Guided problem solving recreates deep smarts because the protégé can develop know-how and know-who as well as know-what (facts about the knowledge domain).

• When learners conduct experiments, they learn to think analytically, in terms of hypotheses or “what-ifs.” ~

Why We Like This Book

Deep Smarts presents an intriguing mix of coaching tips and organizational strategies that creates a resource for helping younger managers move up the ladder and keeping organizations on track through constant knowledge transfer. By combining manager development with business strategy, the authors have created a thoughtful collection of smart training and management techniques that can help any organization. ~

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