Promoting Performance
September-October  2010

Thinking Outside the Box

According to current theories of expert performance, experts gain an advantage by acquiring through practice cognitive skills and strategies that increase the efficiency with which information specific to their domain was processed. Consequently, experts are able to circumvent natural processing limitations. In this study, a description is provided of how experts make use of strategies that involve adapting physical elements of their domain environment to reduce cognitive workload during performance. Telephone interviews were conducted with 15 expert orienteers and six coaches of national orienteering squads about how expert orienteers carry and arrange their navigational equipment while orienteering. A content analysis of the interview data revealed that expert orienteers adapt their navigational equipment to reduce the cognitive and, more specifically, attentional workload during performance. Various strategies to reduce cognitive workload included folding and thumbing the map, annotating the control description card and attaching it to a sleeve, and setting and re-setting the map. In short, the experts manipulated their work environment to have readily on hand the information they needed and in a format that made it easy to locate and use all the while performing their work tasks. Source: Eccles, D. (2006). Thinking outside of the box: The role of environmental adaptation in the acquisition of skilled and expert performance, Journal of Sports Science, 24, 1103-1114.


A study exploring coaches’ responses to and coping strategies for stress was conducted with 12 world-class coaches based in the UK. The most often cited strategy for coping with stress was Structuring and Planning. In other words, expert coaches plan ahead and organize as a method of coping with stress. They seemed to be aware, from previous experience, of situations that could potentially result in negative stress responses and therefore took steps to reduce the potential for these situations to have negative outcomes. They also attempted to plan and manage their time to cope with stressors that they experienced. Additional problem-focused strategies described by coaches included attending coaching courses and reading coaching and professional practice journals (i.e., continued professional development). Furthermore, coaches described taking lessons from other successful sports teams and learning from their own experiences as coaches (and as athletes) to help them cope with the demands of coaching.  Source: Olusoga, P. et al., (2010). Stress and coping: A study of world-class coaches. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 22, 274-293.

Error Awareness

Recently, I studied how experts keep learning, and why it takes people with less expertise longer to catch on. The study found that experts closely and extensively monitor the things they do well and the things they believe they can do better. That is, the experts were keenly aware of the skills and knowledge critical to a good performance and would routinely and consciously evaluate the quality of the results obtained. This self-monitoring of performance led them to identify both goals and actions that led to improved performances. In other words, in reflecting on their experiences and evaluating their performance, experts develop self-improvement plans and programs. While beginning professionals may simply be unaware of how little they know, experts are keenly aware of errors they make and can predict which problems will prove most challenging for them. They also insightfully understand why they fail to comprehend certain elements of a problem if something doesn’t work as intended. Source: Schempp, P. (2008). 5 Steps to Expert; How to go from business novice to elite performer. Davies-Black.

Six Dimensions of Expertise

In attempting a comprehensive definition of expertise needed for team coordination, several scholars reviewed current literature and identified the following 6 dimensions:
Subject Matter Expertise: emphasizes the task content information and the information flow among team members.
Situational Context Expertise: emphasizes the range of conditions under which information has valid use.
Interface Tool Expertise: represents an emphasis on process information flow, usually between the human and system interface.
Expert Identification Expertise: incorporates knowing who has what level of expertise in a specific area.
Communication Expertise: the ability to transmit knowledge and information effectively via appropriate media.
Information Flow Path Expertise: includes the technical knowledge of what communication paths exist and which is most appropriate to use, within specific task and situational constraints.  Source: Garrett, S., et al. (2009). Six dimensions of expertise. Theoretical Issues in Ergonomics Science, 10, 93-105.

Setbacks and Lucky Breaks

When I graduated there were hiring freezes at most TV news networks. I tried for months to get an entry-level job at ABC news, answering phones, xeroxing, whatever, but I couldn’t get hired. At the time it was crushing. In retrospect, not getting that entry-level job, was the best thing that could have happened to me. Months of waiting, I decided if no one would give me a chance as a reporter, I should take a chance. If no one would give me an opportunity, I would have to make my own opportunity. Wanted to be a war correspondent, so I decided to just start going to wars. As you can imagine, my mom was thrilled about the plan. I had a friend make a fake press pass for me on a mac, and I borrowed a home video camera… and I snuck into Burma and hooked up with some students fighting the Burmese government… then I moved onto Somalia in the early days of the famine and fighting there. I figured if I went places that were dangerous, I wouldn’t have as much competition, and because I was willing to sleep on the roofs of buildings, and live on just a few dollars a day, I was able to charge very little for my stories. As ridiculous as it sounds, my plan worked, and after two years on my own shooting stories in war zones, I was hired by ABC news as a correspondent. I was the youngest correspondent they had hired in many years. Had I gotten the entry-level job I’d wanted, I would have never become a network correspondent so quickly, I probably would never have even become one at all. The things which seem like heartbreaking setbacks, sometimes turn out to be lucky breaks. Anderson Cooper, commencement address, Tulane University, 2010

Collective Virtuosity

An interesting study on collective virtuosity in organizations was undertaken in Eastern Europe. The purpose of the study was to understand the nature of peak performance at the group level. The researchers studied this phenomenon by participating in a performing orchestrate for one year. They found that groups can be transformed by their own performance in a collaborative process in which virtuosity, or individual peak performance, becomes collective. In other words, group peak performance was not reducible to individual performance. They observed that the members were, “for a time, transported by each other to an experience labeled as flow, timelessness, and aesthetic experience.” When the sense of group came to the foreground, then collective virtuosity emerged. Interestingly, the collective nature of collective virtuosity does not imply that peak performance requires sameness, submission in the sense of passivity, or the smoothing over of all conflict and contention among group members. To the contrary, these tensions frequently surfaced in interviews as sometimes critical opinions of the conducting professor, the conducting students and the performance of other orchestral players. Posturing and competition among players probably even contributed to the overall improved performance. Source: Marotto, M., et al. (2007). Collective virtuosity in organizations. Journal of Management Studies, 44, 388-413.

Increasing Innovation

Innovative employee behavior was studied to explain how expectations for such behavior affect job performance and image inside organizations. It seems these outcome expectations are shaped by contextual and individual difference factors, including perceived organization support for innovation, supervisor relationship quality, job requirement for innovativeness, employee reputation as innovative, and individual dissatisfaction with the status quo. One major reason employees do not innovate is their fear of being perceived negatively by others. Findings from this study suggest organization support and job requirements as two areas to focus on to reduce the image risks. Although it is important to build a culture supportive of innovation (e.g., by establishing special rewards for innovation and establishing forums for diverse ideas), the relevance of job requirements appears a stronger factor. Therefore, it is important for managers to let employees know that they too are expected to contribute new ideas is one way. Explicitly incorporating innovativeness into their job descriptions is another possibility.  Source: Yuan, F., Woodman, R. (2010). Innovative behavior in the workplace, Academy of Management Journal, 53, 323-342.

Entrepreneurial Thinking

The well-publicized success of entrepreneurs often leaves people wondering, “how do they see these opportunities?” and “how did they make the decision to go for it?” A study of 327 entrepreneurs offers some insight into their thinking. The results suggest that the individual psychological factors of entrepreneurial alertness and prior knowledge were the antecedents of entrepreneurial opportunity recognition and influenced entrepreneurial decision-making. Entrepreneurial decision-making refers to the choices made by entrepreneurs when faced with entrepreneurial opportunities. It has the attributes of conventional decision making, such as risk, process, and irreversibility. Previous research has found that opportunity recognition depends on entrepreneurial capability. Entrepreneurial alertness is a particular cognitive capability enabling entrepreneurs to perceive opportunities. It can also be seen as a personal sensitivity to business information, expressed as shrewd evaluation, market inspiration, and insightful rapid judgment. Prior knowledge has been considered the cognitive basis of opportunity recognition. Entrepreneurs’ existing stocks of information have an impact on how they seek customers and markets, search for suppliers, seize capital, and engage in other venture actions.  Source: Miao, Q. & Liu, L. (2010). A psychological model of entrepreneurial decision-making. Social Behavior and Personality, 38, 357-364.