Monday, 16 June 2014

How to win by not losing

I wrote a blog post a few years ago entitled "Consistent mediocrity beats inconsistent genius" which argued that a strategy of "no mistakes" - a strategy of consistent competent delivery in all areas - is one that Knowledge Management can easily support, and it may be a better strategy for many companies than a strategy of striving for excellence and innovation.

The post received some comment at the time; the vision of consistent safe delivery being a less appealing one than a vision of innovation.

Into the debate comes a post from the excellent Farnham Street blog, entitled "Avoiding Stupidity is Easier than Seeking Brilliance".

This post looks at the game of tennis, and argues that professionals win points whereas amateurs lose them. In professional tennis each player plays a nearly perfect game until one player hits an un-returnable ball. In amateur tennis, sooner or later someone makes a mistake and the point is lost.

In processional tennis, therefore, about 80 per cent of the points are won; in amateur tennis, about 80 per cent of the points are lost.  The strategy to be a winner in amateur tennis is therefore to make no mistakes - to play a conservative game until the other person errs.

The Farnham street blog extrapolates from tennis to business and quotes billionaire Charlie Munger as follows;
It is remarkable how much long-term advantage people like us have gotten by trying to be consistently not stupid, instead of trying to be very intelligent".
So this takes us back to the suggestion that the primary focus of Knowledge Management could be the avoidance of repeat mistakes. If Knowledge Management can aim at avoiding organisational stupidity, rather than aiming at organisational brilliance, then there may be considerable long term advantage to be gained.

Avoid repeat mistakes - that is a simple vision for KM, and in all but the highest professional games, may be enough to make you a winner.

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