Coleman Wick

Automaticity (yes, it’s in the dictionary)

Everyone is an expert at certain things. We’re all experts at parking in our own garage, at shampooing/rinsing/repeating.

But in the business world, I can remember a time when the word “expert” was reserved for a small number of individuals who had reached a rare level of skill or knowledge about a given subject.

Today, the claim is ubiquitous, found on nearly every website, in many cover letters and profiles. It seems anyone who has between five and tens years’ experience at something has license to call themselves an expert, and perhaps that’s as it should be.

Frankly, I’ve always thought it was one of those subjective words that can’t really be qualified. Certainly, anyone called an expert must have deep experience in the given area, but can the word be defined in any concrete way?

At a recent event, it was posited that an expert is someone who has developed automaticity.
Automaticity seemed like a word that would’ve appeared on my radar at some point, but it was new to me. It is defined as “the ability to do things without occupying the mind with the low-level details required, allowing it to become an automatic response pattern or habit. It is usually the result of learning, repetition, and practice.”

This has the ring of truth to it. I know that when our team analyzes data, indeed our minds are not occupied with low-level details.

Understandably, many companies have internal research departments to compile and analyze data. But the implications of automaticity suggest that, unless a company employs an expert at research and analytics, its research process couldn’t be a truly “automatic response pattern or habit” — and as a result the thoroughness or veracity of results can be affected.

But there are further reasons that in-house research, even if properly conducted, could easily miss something.

John Bargh, a social psychologist at Yale who has been called the world’s leading expert on the unconscious mind (speaking of experts), has done extensive studies on the concept of automaticity, and has shown that a person can’t be aware of how generalizing influences their observations.

Further, he has shown that stimuli are often interpreted and assessed based on their relevance to the interpreter’s goals. Which explains why we’ve seen company after company misinterpret their findings, because their data gathering and analysis waters get muddied by what they deem to be relevant.

You can see that it’s quite possible for internal research initiatives to be affected by conscious and unconscious factors — factors that are immaterial to an experienced independent research firm such as ColemanWick.

Also, firms like ours should be able to conduct research and data analysis with automaticity, with no attention wasted on low-level details.

A level I apparently have yet to achieve in fantasy football.

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