Crap Detectors

You know you are dealing with an expert if he (or she) has a well-functioning crap detector that enables them to sniff out the BS in someone else's position. This cuts across all occupations, places, and levels. My wife Joan is one of those experts. In her case, the field is church music and not much gets by her. When some pretender is blowing smoke about music in church liturgy, she will spot it, cut them off at the knees (with out batting an eye), and bring them down to size.

The concept of a "crap detector" is nothing new. I think it was first coined by the writer Ernest Hemingway many years ago. Ever since, the phrase has had widespread exposure and use.

What's not so widely known is its companion, the "gem detector," a concept first discussed (I believe) by several organizational learning & development practitioners, including Winfried Dressler, At de Lange, Leo D. Minnigh and John Gunkler back in 1999.

Gem detectors are filters we use to spot good ideas and suggestions, possible solutions, and overlooked answers to intractable problems. Gem detectors may not be as fully developed in experts as crap detectors, particularly in cultures that emphasize problem finding.

In postings to the Learning-Org listserv, there were some interesting thoughts expressed about detectors, learning and innovation. For example:

When you speak about learning in organizations, the tough problem these days is, how can we build processes that get vital knowledge (or even information) to the right places in a timely fashion. There is too much information. We need both filters and communications links -- links so we don't miss what's important, and filters (or "detectors") so we don't get overwhelmed by the unimportant. That strikes me as possibly the number one "systems" priority for people trying to help organizations learn.

All I would add to that is that we also need to help people strengthen their gem detectors.


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