The Expertise Economy by Kelly Palmer and David Blake

The Blurb On The Back:

Keeping people’s skills in sync with fast-changing markets is the biggest challenge of our time.

For companies and their employees to succeed, they need to focus on building skills for the future.  The Expertise Economy shows how the most forward-thinking companies, big and small, are transforming their employees into experts and ultimately, creating their biggest competitive advantage.

Kelly Palmer, Silicon Valley thought leader from LinkedIn, Degreed, and Yahoo!, and David Blake, co-founder of Ed-tech pioneer Degreed, share their experiences and provide insights from innovative companies and industry thought leaders like:

– Google

– Airbnb

– Unilever

– NASA

– MasterCard

– Whitney Johnson

– Daniel Pink

– Sal Khan

– Todd Rose

– Clayton Christensen

The Expertise Economy dares you to let go of outdated and traditional ways of closing the skills gap, and challenges CEOs and business leaders to embrace the urgency of reselling and upskilling the workforce. 

You can order The Expertise Economy by Kelly Palmer and David Blake from Amazon USAAmazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Kelly Palmer was LinkedIn’s chief learning officer and is on Degreed’s executive team.  David Blake is co-founder and executive chairman of Degreed.  This book makes some interesting suggestions about establishing on-going learning to ensure that companies stay ahead of the curve and don’t suffer a skills gap, but many are tech dependent and notably Degreed heavy and I’d have liked consideration of apprenticeships and cross-departmental training.

The book opens by describing how adults really learn in terms of using methods beyond just being lectured at and subjected to endless Powerpoint presentations and how they respond best to learning that has a purpose and meaning to it rather than dull corporate compliance.  There wasn’t much here that was new to me as I’d come across many of the ideas here in other books but the authors set it all down very clearly and in a way that’s easy to follow, with a number of examples taken from real life to illustrate their points.

Palmer and Blake then move onto making a good case for why corporations should invest in learning and ensuring that employees have the skills that the company needs to retain a competitive advantage.  I found this really interesting because the focus is on what both employers and employees get from such a learning approach rather than just on benefits to the bottom line.  I would have liked more discussion about how C-suite executives should be looking to continuously learn as well because it’s notable how they are missing from the discussions but I did completely agree with their argument re giving employees meaningful autonomy in how they learn, being better at communication and understanding what the employees’ own goals are.

The chapter on content overload and different types of content and organisation for learning coupled with a later chapter that’s specifically about tech demonstrates one of the big weaknesses for me of the book in that it heavily promotes educational technology and certain businesses – notably Degreed but also LinkedIn and the Khan Academy.  It’ is understandable why there is a focus on tech (and the COVID pandemic demonstrates that benefits of on-line learning) but for some people it is easier to learn in an in-person environment and while I understand that part of the point of these books is that they’re marketing tools, it does get a bit wearying to draw back to the same companies and push them as part of the solution..

Better is the chapter focusing on peer to peer learning, which I thought combined practical advice and suggestions with some interesting theory.  Certainly as someone who has delivered compliance training numerous times within organisations, I’m aware of the difficulties in getting people to really take in the message of the training such that they can then apply it in practice.  Particularly good is the section on the importance of critical feedback in group learning and how that’s easier to do among peers in organisations that encourage such conversations.  Again, what does come through in the book is how corporate culture is integral to effective continuous learning and employee engagement and it would have been useful had the authors made some suggestions for how to tackle this (albeit I admit that a full examination of that is probably beyond the ambit of the book there would still be an opportunity to explain how learning officers could make a case for exploring culture).

The book makes some good points about skills learning and that a college degree is not the be-all-and-end-all when it comes to skills.  I also agreed with Palmer and Blake’s point about how universities essentially cut themselves out of in-job learning when it comes to alumni by showing no further interest in careers when there are opportunities there to get graduates to connect with each other or offer other opportunities to up-skill.  However, given the authors’ emphasis on how people can have a lot of skill without a degree, it would have been interesting to see more discussion about how to bring non-college graduates into work (including via apprenticeship type structures) and what employers could gain from doing so.

All in all (and notwithstanding my criticisms), I thought it was an interesting read that made some good points about the importance of education and on-going learning.  Certainly it’s something that I think anyone involved in training and in-house education should check out because there’s certainly enough information and theory here to make you re-consider how you approach it.  

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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