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The Fresco Fiasco: Is Knowledge Enough?

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An historic fresco in Spain was ruined after a parishioner with good intentions attempted to restore it


Elias Garcia Martinez’s ‘Ecce Homo’ (left) in the Sanctuary of Mercy Church in Zaragoza, Spain had deteriorated (center) over time from moisture damage. A parishioner’s restoration (right) destroyed the fresco. Photo: Centro de Estudios Borjanos

By David Leaser

If you look at the job postings in most organizations, you would get a sense that most organizations are looking for “knowledgeable,” “passionate” and “energetic” new hires. But is that what we really need? And is knowledge enough?

Take the case of Cecilia Gimenez, a kindly 81-year-old woman who became a global laughingstock for applying her passion and knowledge in an area where she had very little proven capabilities: Art. One day, Cecilia walked into her church in Borja, Spain and decided to restore one of the historic frescos that had deteriorated over time. She picked up her paint brush and went to work on the fresco. Within a short period of time, she destroyed the fresco and turned what was once named, Ecce Homo (Behold the Man) into what a BBC correspondent described as a “crayon sketch of a very hairy monkey in an ill-fitting tunic.”

The problem was, Cecilia had the knowledge and passion of an artist, but not the skills or capabilities. She knew how to mix paints and hold the brush, but she had never created a beautiful work of art.

The story underscores a problem: We need more than knowledge and passion to get the job done. We need real skills and proven capabilities. And we need to be matched with a job that fits us.

Let’s consider another example: photography. You can gain the knowledge you need by taking a course and reading the manual. You can then demonstrate your skills by holding the camera, setting the aperture, focusing the camera and taking the shot. But are you capable of taking an award-winning shot, and do you have the passion and personality to do this all day long?

Knowing is not doing. We need to go beyond learning to real skills development and job matching. We need to create programs that develop skills and match people to the jobs they were born to do. Here is the progression we should take:

  • Assess the Candidate– Discover what makes the candidate tick. What job was he/she born to do? We should also establish a baseline of knowledge and aptitude for their desired role.

  • Develop Knowledge– Providing instruction on how to perform the task. We can learn from instructors, books, tutorials and job aids.

  • Prove Skills– We must develop an instrument to test that a candidate has the skills to do the job. Certifications must go beyond multiple choice to include experiential examination.

  • Demonstrate Capabilities– We should expect a candidate to prove that they can produce good work and provide a portfolio or a proven history of successfully completed projects or business wins.

  • Determine a Job Fit– We need to determine if the candidate has the passion, aptitude, motivation and personality for the job and that he/she will fit into the culture of the company.

Good sales people have strong knowledge of their products and customers, but they must also have the right disposition. They have to be able to accept failure and rejection on a daily basis. Good developers need to know how to code, but they must also be detail-oriented and focused.

The story of the Fresco Fiasco is a cautionary tale for organizations about the limited value of knowledge. At IBM, we are building a skills program which includes all the elements you need to develop employees and match them to the right roles. We’ve partnered with global training providers to provide expert instruction across the globe. Our certification programs test candidates to see if they have the skills to do the job. Our analytics talent assessments determine if a candidate has the disposition to match their knowledge and education. Our Academic Initiative is building the next generation of leaders. And our Kenexa offerings help organizations develop a “fit strategy” to ensure employees have the qualifications, personality and passion to be successful.


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David Leaseris the business development executive for IBM’s Global Skills Initiative. Leaser developed IBM’s first cloud-based learning solution and is the author of a number of thought leadership white papers on talent development, including “Migrating Minds” and “The Social Imperative in Workforce Development. David has trained more than 4,000 clients and developed more than 30 training manuals and video tutorials. You can reach David on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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