Science in the Wild: Episode 30

Taking a quick look at collaborative learning & development in the wild

Click here to listen to the interview on UR Business Network

In this episode, Gary and Nathan continued their conversation with Matt Puglisi, Executive Vice President, Business Strategy at Aptima, Inc., an R&D firm primarily serving the U.S. Department of Defense in problems for which technological shortcomings and human needs overlap and for which the capabilities of technology and people can combine for highly innovative and efficacious solutions. Matt is responsible for developing, refining and executing Aptima’s corporate strategy, and improving and executing Aptima’s business development process. As a Senior Military Analyst, Mr. Puglisi also performs technical work related to training and performance assessment, in particular with the U.S. Marines.

We discussed why scientists must help others, such as employers and stakeholders, understand the relevance and potential of a scientist beyond the scientist’s area of expertise. Like business, science depends on funding. It requires scientists to convince consumers or intermediaries to invest in science. Matt talked with us about how scientists can do this. In particular, we talked about a methodology called “Quick Look” that can be as effective for brand activation and engagement marketing as it is for situated collaborative problem solving.

Quick looks are settings in which a diversity of participants can literally walk through a problem together. It can be a simulation suitable for rehearsal or it can be an operational setting in which it is possible to conduct embedded training or assessment. It creates an environment in which terminology and the social contrivances of organizational practices don’t get in the way of mutual edification and learning. Co-participants literally can see what others are talking about and come to appreciate ineffable factors influencing their shared experience. The settings provide a rich variety of “boundary objectives” that, as such, facilitate communication and knowledge translation between domains otherwise encumbered by different lexicons and habits of attention.

Whether or not the events are physically taxing, they always have a high mental workload because of the rate of learning they stimulate in all participants. In Matt’s work, he has been consistently surprised by the mental exhaustion of Quick Look participants who would be considered masters of the subject matter addressed in these collaborative events. In hindsight, he realized that such intensity is a characteristic of those who pursue mastery. They are never finished, and their hunger for improvement only increases with their level of competence. This reveals to us that Quick Looks tap into something quite important when experts come together to both teach and learn.

We discussed how learning together in the wild, from high levels of expertise, enables co-participants to communicate about considerations that are difficult to put into words yet that can have a powerful impact on a shared experience and the meaning that one makes of it. Shared experience becomes a medium of communication that—while grounded in details observable with the naked eye, as it were—transcends such concrete details by revealing the experiential potency of abstractions such as character, integrity, and values. Quick looks, with exceptional expedience, can lead to outcomes that change the way participants think about situations they ostensibly have mastered.

We discussed how Quick Looks are neither limited to military subject matter nor to outdoor settings. From the perspective of our prior conversation with Matt, in a sense, they represent a mindset of shared vulnerability and a venue for it. Experts venture into the unknown together from different perspectives on what had been thought to be complete or at least sufficient knowledge. They reveal their ignorance to themselves and to each other. Matt shared his perspective that ignorance provides freedom and fosters humility. It enables a curious person to “behave like a scientist,” in public view, rather than merely showcasing the knowledge obtained through science. This more inclusive view of science provides a path for a broader community to become comfortable with ignorance because of the awareness of powerful and reliable tools that can help one come to know.

In bringing the sensibilities of science to open collaboration among a diversity of stakeholders, there is enhanced awareness of the consequences of doing business in a market and its associated ecosystem. The supply side develops a better sense of what it produces, and the demand side develops a better sense of what it consumes. There is deeper meaning to the transactions between supply and demand. Science is a natural companion is such transactions, and scientific sensibilities can help develop the people involved as much as the products and services that bring the supply side and demand side together.

List of episodes and concepts for Science in the Wild
Join the conversation on Twitter
Connect with Gary Riccio and Nathan Roman on LinkedIn

Key Terms and Concepts
· Business development
· Quick Look
· Situated collaborative problem solving
· Boundary objects
· Mastery
· Character, integrity, and values
· Shared vulnerability
· Scientific sensibilities