Friday 10 December 2010

Bursting the knowledge bubbles

bubble-burstI have blogged a couple of times about the book  "Deadly Decisions - how false knowledge sank the titanic, blew up the shuttle and led America into war" by Christopher Burns; an excellent book, which I would recommend to the KM professional. He talks about what he calls the "Information bubble" - where a person making decisions inhabits a bubble, receiving information only from a few like-minded sources. The knowledge within that bubble is therefore groupthink - false knowledge, created only from local sources, and becoming a self-reinforcing and totally erroneous belief.

Burns gives the classic example of the second Bush administration, where Condoleeza Rice reorganised the various counter-terrorism groups to report only to her, acting as a filter and bottleneck, with the result (he suggests) that the senior administration "knew" that Iraq and Saddam Hussein were the only real threat to the USA. Concern about Bin Laden's plans to attack the US was therefore "effectively kept from senior members of the administration" until it was too late.

We see such knowledge bubbles at work in a number of contexts

  • The team which thinks it has "the right solution" and listens to nobody else
  • The individual with the "not invented here" mindset - immune to challenge
  • The social media community which forms around like-minded people and perpetuates group-think
  • The senior technical staff who defend "best practice" long past its sell by date
  • The senior management team who are protected from, or immune to, "bad news"
In each case the information flow or knowledge flow reaches an impenetrable barrier.

Any organisation serious about KM has to burst these bubbles before disaster can strike. They can for example

  • Require or mandate teams to hold peer assists, to get them to listen to others
  • Outlaw "not invented here"
  • Extend their communities to include all shades of opinion, and to promote dialogue, not monologue
  • Recast Best Practice as a constantly changing concensus, not an immovable object
  • Strengthen the knowledge supply chain to senior management, to become a conduit of what Burns calls "Dissonant facts (which need to) travel quickly up an organisation, in the same way that even the slightest pain shoots through the nervous system, and for the same reason".
Lets start bubble-bursting. Who's got the pin?


John Sea said...

Modern society's version of "the Emperor's New Clothes"

John Sea said...

Modern society's version of "the Emperor's New Clothes"

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