Marilyn Gilbert’s Journal Article: Human Performance Technology


If you read “Human Performance Technology: Further Reflections on Human Competence,” you’ll quickly discover that we have a lot to learn from Marilyn Gilbert.

In May of 2019, Taylor & Francis published Marilyn Gilbert’s update to Tom Gilbert’s Human Competence. From the abstract, Taylor & Francis Group clarifies Marilyn Gilbert’s contribution to the HPT field and the purpose of the article:

Readers will find many interesting and provocative updates and revisions to the 1978 book [Human Competence: Engineering Worthy Performance]. These extend the original text, elaborate the analysis, and hint at the future directions that they saw ahead.

The Gilberts worked together for decades although Marilyn’s contributions have been generally unrecognized in the behavior analysis community. This special issue helps remedy that oversight.

If you read Human Competence, this is a “must-read” article to solidify your HPT expertise. There are several HPT concepts as well as a few case studies that illustrate how you can use the concepts in practice.

One theme found throughout the article is how the Gilberts prefer the term, exemplary performer, over top performer. Marilyn Gilbert explains:

I use “exemplary performer” because “top performer” won’t do just as well. Consider that the only reason we single out the best performers is so they can serve as examples for others to emulate. And people may be “top performers” because they are geniuses, or they cheat on their jobs, or because their jobs are measured poorly, or because they work 80 hours a week. Or maybe they just sound and look more impressive, or they know how to butter up the boss. I can think of a dozen reasons that could make top performers poor examples. But exemplary performers are not just top performers; keep in mind that they are people we can and should emulate.

After the introductory headings, the article is divided into six sections:

  1. An introduction to the science of human performance
  2. Observing (and we MEAN observing!) the exemplary performer
  3. The egg and I or, “look before you listen”: an experience of Tom Gilbert
  4. Genuine incentives: another trillion-dollar opportunity for the new century
  5. Entering the information era
  6. Overview of the four I’s

If what I’ve written hasn’t enticed you to read and study this article, then read this last quotation. Think about all the faulty attempts to improve performance, and then consider what Marilyn could offer you with her insights:

I have discovered that at least 90 percent of all jobs and tasks can be greatly improved without a lot of effort. I also know that 90 percent is just a very conservative estimate. That’s because the improvements I have in mind should not be just minor adjustments, but great leaps forward in productivity. I visualize improvements of 100 or 200 percent as a floor, beyond which lies even greater potential. A true science begins by realizing gains never before dreamed of; the science of worthy performance has just that power. I call the method of making these improvements “human performance engineering” (I usually drop the “human” except where I need to distinguish it from what people do who service air conditioners).

We all could use insight into doing less to improve more!


To link to this article:


Citation: Marilyn B. Gilbert (2019) Human Performance Technology: Further Reflections on Human Competence, Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 39:1-2, 7-112, DOI: 10.1080/01608061.2019.1596864

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