Here today, gone tomorrow …

I’ve seen lots of articles recently asking whether social media is the death of knowledge management (KM) … I’ve even written about myself, albeit nearly a year ago now.

In this context I was struck by an answer in Computer World from John Seely Brown to a question about what he learnt at Xerox (thanks  to @jobsworth for the heads-up):

“First, wisdom is often the biggest obstacle to innovation. In a rapidly changing world, the assumptions that underlie our past learning may now be invalid. So, an idea that didn’t work five years ago may work fantastically now.

Second, we tend to hold on to assumptions longer than we should. Often, by letting go of old assumptions, whole new vistas are created.”

I’ve always felt that traditional KM practices are too slow moving and try to impose an overly simplistic and controlling model onto what is essentially a chaotic, vibrant, real-time reality. Sometimes, it feels like KM is trying to take a series of still-shots of this real-time reality to present back to users who have already moved on – and when you put the still shots together, you get a jerky and incomplete picture.

I think John Seely Brown makes a great point – the world is changing so fast that keeping stuff for future use is becoming less and less valuable and can blinker our future potential. It challenges many of the precepts upon which KM is built.

As the world has become more and more real-time, so the balance has shifted away from re-use of existing information to the notion of relationships. The need for knowledge now is what has driven social media practices which, not only acknowledge the chaos of humanity, but embrace it to deliver distilled, real-time value. It’s not formally organised, it’s often not pretty, but it seems to work.

The million dollar question is how do you strike the right balance between learning from history and living in the past?

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  1. I think the issue here is summed up nicely by Alvin Toffler – “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

    The important skill is to learn quickly from the sources you need, synthesize that information into value, action etc – and forget about it. Depending on who you are and what your mind is like, any, all or none of these things may be challenging!

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