Expertise vs Experience - Captain Parani

Came across quote while reading media critic Jay Rosen the other day: "When in doubt, draw a distinction."

One was Expertise vs Experience, Captain Parani author of the book Golden Strips has a chapter on this. From the book expertise is gained from:

  1. Experience
  2. Deliberate practice
  3. Intentional knowledge
  4. Focused feedback

In my present line of work (repairing small craft), expertise in turnings screws is absolutely paramount. By that I mean that if you can’t turn a screw without messing it up, you are of drastically reduced value as a worker, and had better not touch them at all. Still, the business is full of people who haven’t mastered this relatively simple skill.

I find that it is always due to them not giving a fuck, which manifests itself as a deficit in deliberate practice. Without that, intentional knowledge (about screw drive types and the mechanics of force transfer) does not translate experience into expertise, no matter how much focused feedback (in the form of furious clients).


Posted this before, related:

From here:

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Add another small circle, intersecting the other two. Label: What you can get away with.


‘What you can convince others you know’ would be a good one

Add a large encompassing circle and label it What You Know You Got Away With.

I like the way the JAX pilot put it about piloting in Slade’s book.

“Any idiot can color inside the lines. The art of it is coloring outside the lines safely.”

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It’s hard to think to think of any good examples off hand. The one that comes to my mind is the Captain of the Bounty and his experience with hurricanes. He is on tape saying that the waves from a hurricane are big but long and not steep.

But his experience was without context.

Sorry Kennebec, Gotta think I always ran or diverted from weather in a slow steel boat. A poor example using the wooden Bounty, you are better than that sir. Perhaps doesn’t relate to the circle thing. No disrespect here. El Faro was steel, but vulnerable. Have been in hurricanes that were both long and steep at similar times. Both Captains should have known that,

Well, that’s the point, they didn’t know.

Capt Parani’s book is a bit preachy in places but it has a good chapter on this. From that chapter (ch 4):

"The real danger is that unless there is a conscious effort to gain expertise, the human mind tends to cover the skill deficit with misplaced overconfidence."

He recommends keeping a record of one’s experience which I believe you’ve said that you did do that.

Agree, misplaced overconfidence can,has and will cause problems. And yes, kept my own" Dock book" and trip log.

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I was saying that Deliberate Pracice is more important than the other points on the list, a without which not. On further reflection that goes for all of them, but Deliberate Practice is still in a category of its own, since it is a matter of personal choice rather than circumstance.

It’s not about being aware of the gap so much as respecting it. Deep down, shit mechanics know that they’re shit, otherwise they wouldn’t come crying to me when they fuck something up. The problem is that they can’t be bothered to do something about it. Respecting the gap can be done through seeking to eliminate it by working towards the top of one’s game, or shying away from tasks for which one is not qualified (in which case one will be branded as a harmless simpleton). The most destructive approach is to ignore it altogether, and forge ahead with scant regard for the consequences. The latter looks like the most common approach in sectors not subject to rigid formalization of competence.

Exactly! People do this by shifting the blame away from themselves; PZ screwdrivers are bad because they won’t reliably turn a PH headed screw, Honda are stupid for securing the fuel filter cover with PH headed screws, etc. In the end, clients get accustomed to the idea that screws just wear out over time, and stop providing Focused Feedback below a goven threshold. The cycle has now reached an equilibrium around the lowest common denominator.

Why people (including myself) sometimes spend energy on getting away with things rather than improving them, is an interesting question that I don’t fully understand. I suspect that it is the product of subconcious rationalization, the method whereby the greatest reward can be reaped from the lowest investment of effort. It looks as though the best antidote is a moralistic approach, no matter how conceptually unappealing that may be. Witness how the Japanese are known to produce goods of superb quality, because their culture links skill and personal progression to honor in an almost sacred manner, so that under performance is seen as utterly discraceful.


This has a practical side, in every day life people have to budget their time and attention. If the problem has been solved before then use the same method. If it hasn’t been solved before then is it, or does it seem similar to a problem that’s been solved before?

Most people will take a stab at things and only stop to read the instructions if they get stuck. The thing with the problem of the right screwdriver is it appears (to me at least) to be a problem that has been solved successfully many times before.

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That’s the same word the author Robert Pirsig uses in his book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. According to Wikipedia : Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance references the Sanskrit doctrine.

Captain Parani also cites a Sanskrit verse on the same page as the quote in the OP.

Possibly related - how does it happen the @KPChief has the book on screwdrivers? :slightly_smiling_face:

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Funny you brought that connection up. The @Klaveness post below put me in mind of ZAMM as well.

What is the relationship between caring (giving a fuck) and competence?

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The key point is if there is awareness of where they are on circle. Do they believe they inside “what you know” when they are not? Or do they understand they are outside and hoping to get lucky?

Fair stretch between dispatches…lol…there is a relationship to situationally awareness…are we capable of responding to any eventuality at a moment’s notice should things go sideways ? Pilots are relying on predictors and past circumstances but what if ? There has to be an allowance for good judgement to operate outside the circle. The tipping point is I suppose knowing what I don’t know.

Trying to push professionals beyond their circle of competence is a battle. Most people have a strong inner drive to resist learning more than they absolutely have to, except in those particular subjects which intrigue them. Screw radar navigation, I’ll never need it. But I’ll spend hours on fantasy football.

To find where the line of your competence is drawn you have to be pushed beyond it. Few will push themselves. The best way to push them is with training. But people will push back against the time/expense. And training programs often have no consequences for failure.

I was speaking with a captain lately who went to an STCW firefighting course. He was shocked when the instructor allowed trainees to opt out of the actual firefighting part. But having run STCW courses for hire myself, I recognize the school’s temptation: you’re hired to pass people, not fail them.

The airlines mandate recurrent pilot training, and threaten to fire those who perform poorly. This threat, if credible, will increase expertise. Imagine if mariners were sent to annual training, and washed out at the level of even 1%. Expertise would rise quite quickly–as would angry emails to congressmen.

Unless there is a threat to livelihood, most training meant to increase expertise has a rubber-stamp quality to it. We once had an in-company training program meant to increase officers’ medical expertise. A rigorous paper test. Voluntary, but with a big cash prize if you passed. Many captains took it. All passed. Expertise increased, right?

A year afterwards a captain asked me if we were offering the test again. “It’s an easy way to make some cash,” he said. “Just cram the night before. In a week, you’ll have forgotten it all.”

To the corporate mind, the program was a waste of money.

Years later, we took another approach. We had another subject we needed to train officers on. A particular emergency plan. We expected officers to learn the plan verbatim, and carry it out during our annual full-crew emergency simulations. But over the years the officers never bothered learning the plan. In simulations, they just winged it. Kept to their circle of competence.

Eventually, I said, you’re going to be tested on the plan. Both in writing, and in simulation. Fail, and your pay will grievously suffer. Period.

Officers learned the plan quick, along with a lot of negativity, hard feelings, and conspiracy theories. Which makes it likely they won’t forget the plan. Which is the point. But as an administrator, I have to worry if this resentment isn’t counterproductive in some other way. People don’t like being pushed beyond their circle.


Let me propose an alternate view of the scenario you describe in your post.

I think you have to consider caring as separate from competence. And further that with out caring there will be limits to their usefulness to you as crew members, regardless of their technical competence.

One thing I learned at Transocean was if you are going to put together training or even a presentation of most types you have to have a matrix. Because without that you won’t have much for your power point slides and it helps humans generalize, stereotype and otherwise make simplistic sense of complicated matters. At the end of the day you go home with parting gifts and certificates. Huh? Oh the matrix:

You see here your money scheme and pay threats was attempting to move folks along the increased competence axis which ultimately you would only succeed in getting them from dumb fuck to miserable fuck.

You need to find a way to get them to care more about their work (not jobs) or replace them at some point.

For a good primer on what motivates folks see Daniel Pink’s book Drive. He talks about external and internal motivations. Many people do believe money isn’t everything. If you pay enough to take compensation off the table as a complaint he suggests autonomy, mastery and purpose are the big three things folks look for and respond to in holding a job and performing their work.


KP Chief,Interesting your post and matrix illustration . Not far off sir in laymens terms. We are not far off in our assessments of retainable talent. "Culling " is what I would use as a simple term. Funny how that works.