Monday 14 January 2013

The shrinking half-life of knowledge

Day 195 When John Browne was CEO at BP, he talked about "the shrinking half-life of ideas".

This always struck me as a very interesting idea, and an idea that was behind Browne's approach to corporate KM. I have since found that he was quoting an older idea from 1962 concerning the shrinking half-life of Knowledge.

Not all knowledge has a short half-life - sometimes the knowledge is linked to the technology, and if you are running a nuclear power station using 1960s control software, then the half-life of the knowledge of the software has to exceed the life of the power station. However in most other areas, where knowledge is evolving and changing, and your competitive advantage lies (at least partly) in having the best and most valid knowledge, then hanging on to old knowledge which is past it's half-life can be competitively dangerous.

Where knowledge has a short half-life, Knowledge Management is not about documenting and protecting "what you know", it is about how fast you can know something new, and how easily you can let go of the old. That's what will win you the battle with the competition.

Colonel Ed Guthrie of the US Army used to liken it to the aerial dogfights in world war 1. "In those days" he used to say, "It was about getting inside the other guy's turning circle. That's what would win you the engagement. Now it's about getting inside the other guy's learning circle".

1 comment:

Rupert Lescott said...

The British Army takes a similar view: you have to try to get inside the enemy's OODA (observe, orientate, decide, act) loop. If you generate faster tempo (rate of activity relative to that of the enemy), you will win.

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