Monday 24 May 2010

The forgetting curve

I have blogged before about our Bird Island exercise, probably the longest running KM experiment in the world, and about how it demonstrates in a very clear way that Knowledge management can drive performance.

We had an interesting twist to the game a couple of weeks ago, where we had two people in the class who had done the game before, about 6 months ago (see also here, for a previous example). Now you might expect that this previous experience and knowledge would give them an edge, They would remember some of the key design principle from the game, you might expect, and they should therefore be well ahead of the other teams. So I put these two people with experience into the same team, to see if this would happen.

Well, it happened to an extent. The two people remembered some bits and pieces, and these included some highly level design principles, and a few tips and hints, However much of the other detail from the game had been lost over the previous 6 months. They built a tower slightly taller than the other teams, but one third the height of their performance 6 months previously. As one of them said in the debrief "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing".

The chart above shows their learning in the previous game, 6 months ago, with the blue and purple tower heights increasing as more knowledge was added. The red line is the learning curve they went through in the game. The grey bar represents their first tower, built with this hazy memory and "little knowledge" from the previous exercise. The green line is therefore the forgetting curve.

This result reinforces recognition of the frailty of human meory as a long term knowledge store, and therefore the need to support that memory through some sort of capturing and recording. Even 6 months is too long to leave knowledge in memory alone. We need to be capturing it as we go, even as an aide memoire, otherwise we lose it.

And when we come to use it again, we find we retain just enough to be dangerous.

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