Sunday, February 29, 2004

Its the last straw man that broke the camel's back

Though much-used, I'm fond of this quote:
For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong (H.L. Mencken)

Something keeps happening to me quite regularly now: business friends who are not in the KM world confidently give me critiques of where KM failed. Their critiques are correct, but they're based on the hyped version of KM with a strong IT bias of the "everyone put their knowledge in a database" variety that I never subscribed to in the first place, and always heard people within the KM field dismiss as well.

The style of denouncement is very similar to how many KM articles began about 8 years ago explaining why BPR, TQM and similar fads had failed. How did KM fall into the same trap? KM, TQM & BPR all have at their heart some good ideas, but they're tackling difficult problems and therefore it takes considerable work to fully understand them. Those who did understand them couldn't give a short explanation because they knew it was inaccurate, but this makes it hard for the idea to fly. Those who didn't fully grasp it happily came up with snappier explanations that did take off - the hype. The hype version is much more mobile - infectious - than the full version, so it cannot be stamped out by patient explanation. Eventually people see the flaws in the hype and reject it, but by then they're sadly immune to catching the proper version instead.

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