Becoming a Nobel Laureate : patterns of a journey to the highest level of expertise

Dörfler, Viktor and Eden, Colin (2017) Becoming a Nobel Laureate : patterns of a journey to the highest level of expertise. In: AoM 2017: 77th Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management, 2017-08-04 - 2017-08-08.

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In this paper we explore how those who arguably belong in the highest echelon of expertise arrived there. To this end, we conducted a series of loosely structured, open-ended, in-depth interviews with 19 scientists who were awarded the highest accolade of their respective disciplines, including 17 Nobel Laureates. In an attempt to make the most of the rich data we collected, we experimented with various approaches, which resulted in an emergent methodological approach. This methodological approach is a result in itself; we named it Intuitive Cyclic Phenomenology. Using this approach, we identified patterns of development of expertise that we separated in two categories. The first category we labelled ‘early development’; this category contains ‘imprinting’ and ‘inspiration’. What we named imprinting stems from a curious pattern we have observed, namely that, at least in some cases, the Nobel Laureates’ prize-winning achievement resembled something they have done, and often warmly remember, in their childhood. Inspiration was included, as it seems that all of our interviewees have been inspired by a remarkable individual, who made them want to become scientists; this typically happened in early university years. In the second category, we have identified four different types of the master-apprentice relationship. We expected to see instances of the master-apprentice relationship, as it has been recognized as an effective way of developing expertise. However, we have achieved a more nuanced picture of the nature of this form of learning and it seems to be a necessary component of achieving the highest level of expertise.