Wednesday 1 August 2018

The dangers of Neomania in KM

Why search for what's new? Why not search for what we know works?

Image from wikimedia commons

Rolf Dobelli in his book "The Art of Thinking Clearly", and Nassim Nicolas Taleb in "Antifragile", refer to the term Neomania.

Taleb defines Neomania as follows
"The "love of the modern for its own sake. We are constantly in pursuit of the next big thing, but how can you know that something will last if it's only been around for a year, offering no information on its future longevity?"

Dobelli says

"You’re sitting in a chair, an invention from ancient Egypt. You wear pants, developed about 5,000 years ago and adapted by Germanic tribes around 750 B.C. The idea behind your leather shoes comes from the last ice age. Your bookshelves are made of wood, one of the oldest building materials in the world. At dinnertime, you use a fork, a well-known “killer app” from Roman times, to shovel chunks of dead animals and plants into your mouths. We place far too much emphasis on flavour-of-the-month inventions while underestimating the role of traditional technology".

I think of both these guys when I see the LinkedIn posts looking for the "Next New Thing in Knowledge Management", or "What's new in KM". These discussions appear several times a year, and, to me are looking for the wrong thing.

To be honest, there has been very little new in KM for a long time. OK, there is a lot of social media technology around now, but companies have been using varieties of social technology (personal pages, threaded discussions, user-created content) for a very long time. The technology is commercially available now, but its not new. AI has been around in various incarnations for ages as well, and still suffers from the same problems now as it did then.

If we look at the organisations that still top the MAKE awards and have done for many years, the bulk of them are using the same Knowledge Management approaches that they did a decade or more ago. They may have perfected some of the details, they may have improved some of the technology or added extra governance, but they are using the same basic approaches that they have ever done - Communities of Practice, Collaboration, Learning from Experience, Knowledge Ownership, Learning Before, During and After (or Ask,Learn,Share).

New ideas and new technologies pop up all the time, and few last. Longevity is important. The key thing to understand as far as Knowledge Management is concerned, is not "What's New", but "What has been proven to work over the long term".

If you have been tasked by your organisation with sorting out an approach to Knowledge Management, then don't go for the new and untried - go for what has passed the test of time, and has proven its value.

Go for what we know works.

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