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Chauffeur’s Knowledge

Chauffeur’s Knowledge

Quality, Consequences and the Construction Industrial Complex (part 285).

Beware the large binder of completed and signed checklists as evidence of preparedness for, and completion of, building systems commissioning. These large binders are satisfyingly heavily and look impressive but they are not real evidence of work and could have been done by a cohort of “armchair operatives”.

The ASHRAE definition of building commissioning as a quality process depending heavily on checklists leads to people without domain expertise filling in checklists and a proliferation of “Chauffeur’s Knowledge”.

Shout out to Glenn Hawkins for explaining “Chauffeur’s Knowledge” to me as follows:

Max Planck went on a tour across Germany in 1918 after receiving the Nobel Prize for Physics. Over time, his chauffeur grew to know his speech by heart, and in the interest of variety, he suggested the professor and he switch places one night. After the lecture, a professor stood up and asked a question; the driver replied, “Never would I have thought that someone from such an advanced city as Munich would ask such a simple question! My chauffeur will answer it.”

There are generally two types of knowledge:

  1. Real knowledge i.e. professionals and teams who have spent thousands of hours studying their subject matter and command the space they occupy via the results they produce.
  2. Chauffeur’s knowledge i.e. knowledge from people who can put on a show. It is surface knowledge without true experience and depth, it is all a show.

Add to this, the property design and construction industries epic failure to manage then transfer real knowledge and you get industry guides and standards that incentivize chauffeur’s knowledge.

This phenomenon is more prevalent than you may think and it is increasingly difficult in the digital age to separate real from chauffeur’s knowledge. News anchors are easy to identify as “chauffeur’s” because they are really actors and not journalists. However in the property professions it is more difficult to identify “chauffeur’s” because they hide in plain site next to professionals with real, acquired knowledge.

In the project management and building commissioning sectors the difference in outcomes delivered is the difference between real and chauffeur’s knowledge at the team and individual levels i.e. the difference between a technical and process approach.

The process approach is all paperwork, heavy binders and chauffeur’s knowledge. It is commoditized and cheap. In contrast, technical project management and technical building commissioning is all about real, applied knowledge delivered at the project work face. It costs money and you get what you pay for.

As chauffeur’s knowledge proliferates in the property industry, evidence via social proof and verification of real knowledge will become more important to clients delivering high performance buildings.

Personally, I like to work with firms that pride themselves on their lack of chauffeur’s knowledge.


#247 Checklists Don’t Work

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