Cognitive Diversity in the individual
According to the Dreyfuss model of 5 stages of skill acquisition, we go through different stages on our journey from being a novice to an expert. One powerful element in coaching in terms of creating awareness, can be exploring what we don’t know. On our way towards developing our skills, experience is said to be central for our skill acquisition. Coaching might be an accelerator of the learning by creating awareness around gained experience.
A very brief introduction of the models content is as follows:
Novice – Focuses on objective facts, and needs rules and structures to make decisions on how to face the task at hand. They are often lacking a holistic view of the complexity of the problem and its context.
Advanced beginner – Is starting to make judgments, which are situational, and detached from the original context. They start to realize the value of their experience, and can’t always describe in words how they are making judgments. Judgments are such becoming less dependent in cognition.
Competent – As the volume of fact based experience grows, the volume becomes unmanageable. So the competent individual learns to prioritize and choose the most important aspects. There is a growing sense of ownership as the individual is feeling a growing responsibility of the outcome. In previous stages, circumstances are more responsible for the outcome.
Proficient – In this stage the individual is highly involved, and can make intuitive decisions based on previous experiences. There is a sense of flexibility in how the task can be approached.
Expert – The expert is not focusing on how to solve a particular issue. Rather there is a sense of “oneness”, or unity with the issue at hand. They are obviously dealing with the issues in a way that usually works.
The Novice will use trial and error when facing a new problem, while the expert will be looking ahead and using forward reasoning. In terms of cognitive diversity within one individual, we will probably explain and view the situation in different ways depending on which level of skill acquisition we might have. Much of the experience in the higher levels might be based on intuition, which will be very difficult to translate to comprehensible steps for others. This is in some cases also known as tacit knowledge. A kind of knowledge we might have, but don’t know how to talk about.5
To add to this theory, researchers are also talking about “dual systems” which is proposing that there is more than one cognitive system at work when processing thoughts (Explicit and Implicit memories). Assuming that this is true, there is then a case for cognitive diversity not only when it comes to different individuals, but also within the one individual. In a coaching situation it may be very interesting and relevant to the client to explore what is actually true about certain statements, and how they know what is true or not. Is this explicit knowledge based on facts and concrete experiences, or is it tacit knowledge, which might be more difficult to explain?
It seems like the “experts” attributes lie in the ability to access implicate memories, which are developed through practice experience in a certain domain. These memories construct an implicit pattern of learning through sensory patterns, or somatic markers in different parts of the human brain. These kinds of experiences and memories do not seem to be able to be found consciously. They remain silent as tacit knowledge. It also seems likely that this system recognizes familiar situations, and tell the expert that something important is about to happen, which can be expressed as a gut feeling. Such, it seems like the human have many systems of processing facts, emotions etc., and that many of these are implicit.7
Cognitive diversity also plays a major role when it comes to making decisions. For a working group or a team, we can tap into the benefits of idea generation and creativity, although we must recognize that there are challenges with managing a diverse team. For the individual it also has an impact. Studies have shown how the analytical process is affected negatively when the individual is cognitively challenged. The automatic process, is however not affected at all, and will then have the upper hand. It is also shown how individuals who are making decisions based on their first impressions, later are making worse assessments when they are trying to analyze their reasoning. Attitudes are not stabile. They are re-created in every new context, and we are searching for criteria for rational arguments, which are changing the starting point for an evaluation. Many individuals are therefore unhappy with their analyzed choices after a while. Researchers are claiming that it is difficult to attach adequate weights the different criteria, which leads to worse results.
Another study it was also concluded that :
whereas conscious thought may be focused and convergent, unconscious thought may be more associative and divergent. (Dijksterhuis, 2006 s. 135).
When it comes to our actions, it seems like there are two systems in play simultaneously as well. One is explicit, while the other is implicit. Experts who don’t have explicit knowledge about their ability, are not as easily affected by stress or pressure, which will then have a negative impact. A study shows how golf players who trained implicit, and didn’t receive verbal explanations of how they should act, was not affected by stress compared to the ones who received an explicit explanation of their training. The reason seems to be that, too much knowledge will make you look inwards and try to grasp an explicit control over ones actions, which is done better by the implicit system.8
When we are coaching, we might then be able to tap into ones individual cognitive diversity by using tools such as the Repertory Grid, developed by Georg Kelly in the 1950s. The implicit memory is built on a comparison of patterns. By comparing objects with different characteristics in a conversation, we can bring out details about these patterns and have an opportunity to create awareness about our implicit knowledge. Then we might even be able to make a narrative description about it, such creating new cognitive knowledge. If this then would accelerate our skill acquisition from a novice towards an expert is a very interesting question. As far as I can see there are still no evidence of this. It will be interesting to see what future research can tell us about this, and if coaching can be considered as a tool.
Mirrors of cognitive diversity Can cognitive traits be learned? Can we through coaching increase cognitive versatility in an individual? How can we coach groups to more effectively utilize cognitive diversity as a resource for performance enhancement? There are many questions that remain unanswered or undiscovered after looking into this topic. There seems to be no end to the depth you can dig in this field, and it will be very interesting to follow what answers science can give us in the future. By becoming more aware about cognitive diversity, there is much room for us to improve not only how we deal with others, but also with ourselves.
If we as coaches can act as mirrors for our clients to more clearly see and hear themselves, perhaps we can help them to create explicit cognitive learning within individuals and groups?
Aggarwal, Ishani, Cognitive Style Diversity in Teams. Carnegie Mellon University. Dissertations. Paper 258. 2013. Available at: http://repository.cmu.edu/dissertations
Bachkirova, Tatiana; Cox, Elaine; Clutterbuck, David, The complete handbook of coaching. Second edition. London: Sage publications. 2014.
Björklund, Lars-‐Erik, Från Novis till Expert: Förtrogenhetskunskap i kognitiv och didaktisk belysning. Linköping: Linköping University. 2008. Available at: 0Björklund_0.pdf
Levinson, Stephen C. Space in language and cognition. Explorations in cognitive diversity. Cambridge: Cambridge University press. 2003
Mitchell, R and Nicholas, S (2006) “Knowledge Creation in Groups: The Value of Cognitive Diversity, Transactive Memory, and Open-mindedness Norms” The Electronic Journal of Knowledge Management Volume 4 Issue 1, pp 67- 74, available online at www.ejkm.com
Kahneman, Daniel, Thinking fast and slow.
Page, Scott E. The difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies.