Perhaps the ancient greeks had the right idea?

Deep Smarts

Book and article on "How to Cultivate and Transfer Enduring Business Wisdom"











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Our business purpose is defined by the phrase from knowledge, through simulated experience to wisdom. Therefore I was excited by a recent article in the Harvard Business Review entitled Deep Smarts[1] and a book Deep Smarts: How to Cultivate and Transfer Enduring Business Wisdom[2] written by Dorothy Leonard and Walter Swap.

The information and table below are from the Harvard Business Review "OnPoint" version of the article Deep Smarts [1]. (To purchase enhanced edition of the article -

The Idea in Brief
"Deeply Smart people make intuitive decisions fast and spot problems and possibilities others miss. Informed by almost preternaturally sound judgment and a gut sense for interrelationships, they see the big picture - rather than getting bogged down in detail."

The Deep Smart Idea in Practice - the  Knowledge Coaching Techniques




Novices practice skills under the watchful eye of knowledge coaches, who then provide feedback that allows them to refine their new capabilities


This technique takes two forms - shadowing and field trips. Through shadowing, novices absorb deep smarts by following experienced, skilled colleagues, and then discussing their observations with those colleagues. During field trips, novices breakout of rigid mental habits and expand their experience through novel ways of thinking and behaving.


Knowledge Coaches and protégés work on problems jointly, so protégés learn how to approach problems.


Knowledge Coaches help novices setup modest experiments that speed learning.

Why am I excited by the article and book?
Quite simply because the concepts are supported so well by simulation. Below, I have attempted to explain this by mapping the Knowledge Coaching Techniques to learning thorough business simulation where the participants work in small teams and where the learning process is managed by the trainer. Of course, there are differences. The Knowledge Coaching advocated by Leonard and Swap is a one-on-one process using in-house coaches. Whereas, use of business simulations commonly involves outside tutors. But typically, these are experts at managing learning and so their extra skills will balance the extra group size. Further, where the simulations are being run by in-house staff, these can bring in-depth company knowledge to the party. Also,unlike the real-world, computer simulations provide learning in a focused and controlled environment.

Deep Smarts in the context of managerial learning using business simulations


Implicit in the use of our computer simulations for management development or business training on courses is the way learning is guided (or managed) by an experienced trainer. Besides this, working in small diverse teams means that the learners can guide and learn from each other.


Typically, our simulations involve participant's running a business or part of a business for six to eight periods. And this forces them to practice and refine their managerial competencies. A process where feedback is provided by the trainer, the simulation and their fellow team members.
Observation Where the teams contain a mix of functional experience and knowledge, participants can observe how their fellow team members handle problems. So, for instance, a marketing manager can observe how a financial manager develops financial strategy while the financial manager can observe the marketing manager develops marketing strategy.

Where the  business simulation addresses industry issues (rather than attempt to replicate the company exactly) participants are forced to think outside the box and hence develop the skill to think through relevant problems. Further, at the end of the simulation where teams combine to discuss and review their performance, they can see, compare and critique a range of thinking and approaches.


Working in small groups towards a common goal, participants must solve a range of evolving problems. And, the impact of these solutions is immediately assessed by the simulation and their outcomes fed back to the participants. Thus providing in depth problem solving practice in a coached and controlled environment.


In the real world experimentation can only be modest even when guided by an expert as, otherwise the risk is too great. But, in the world of business simulations, real operational and financial risk is eliminated and so experimentation can be major. This allows participants to learn from their mistakes - perhaps the most powerful and memorable way of learning.

An implication is how you use your baby boomer retirees and harvest their wisdom.

1. Leonard, Dorothy and Swap, Walter (2004) Deep Smarts Wisdom Harvard Business Review September 2004
To purchase an enhanced copy of this article

2. Leonard, Dorothy and Swap, Walter (2004) Deep Smarts: How to Cultivate and Transfer Enduring Business Wisdom HBS Press

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© 2004 Jeremy J. S. B. Hall
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