Daniel Lemire is on a roll. Here's a researcher who has clearly
accumulated a few things he wanted to say over the years, and has found
an outlet. Things you don't often hear about, fresh air in the academic
hallway, all in one convenient location. A few choice quotes:
the modern value of a scholar is often measured by how much money he
can attract. Whether he needs a lot of money or not is irrelevant. Iím
not complaining about the system, but this is a part of it that people
donít often talk about.
Now, participants have to pick positions and it seems that the centralist position
is in most need of defending right now. So I'll try my hand at it. Note
that I may not actually believe everything I write here.
Decentralized solutions are always more work for end users. They have
to spend time choosing and installing the tools that will enable them
to plug in, and all too often only once that is done do they realize
they're missing such-and-such capability that others have, and are
necessary to fully participate. It thus makes much more sense to
implement a solution at a central point and ensure everyone uses the
same. Even if you choose to decentralize communication, e.g. by
providing personal weblogs, you're better off centralizing the
implementation, ensuring everyone uses the same tools and can access
the same powerful features. Look at how well-developed the centralized
LiveJournal system has become; by comparison the social features of
blog tools in the wild are quite limited, new bloggers feel much more isolated, and many Livejournalers don't even think of going outside even after having taken a peek.
A recent lunch conversation with Yan Simard - who's been keeping an eye on trends in the management literature - and Lilia Efimova's recent pointer to a KM Magazine feature on personal knowledge management
made me realize that the individual-centered approach to knowledge
management is finally breaking into the mainstream, meaning that it is
about to get management buy-in in organization settings. Obviously I
think this is very good news. I don't
believe this is happening simply because the fruits are ripe but rather
because people are finally getting hungry - the demand, not the supply,
is the dominant factor here.
trying to identify a deeper cause of this transition; here are my
For anyone working within an organization or
institution, there are tremendously strong incentives to "act normal".
Going along with what everybody else is doing - following "best
practices" and all - has been an almost surefire way not to get in
trouble. But what's happening now is that change is accelerating in
many aspects of business and in society in general.
Many organizations are
under intense pressure to adapt to changing conditions, but are built
in a way that does not make them very adaptable. In many cases, their
functioning has become out of touch with reality, and the behavior
norms that exist within them have become useless or even detrimental.
comes a point for each individual when the cognitive dissonance between
what the world has become and the assumptions that underlie
organizational norms becomes just too intense to bear. They
decide that the accepted way of doing things simply doesn't make sense
anymore and choose to break apart from the norm, prepared to risk
themselves with respect to their group. They start taking
personal responsibility for their view of the world.
Once that "breaking out" step has been taken they have
probably already begun building some kind of personal scaffolding to
organize their thoughts, but not yet found any existing group that
shares their new models. You could say they are at the "atomisation" or
"disintegration" stage. Personal knowledge management methods and tools
come as natural supports at that point, because they give us the freedom to organize things and think about them on our own.
I think what is
happening these days is that growing numbers of people are living
through the pattern I've just outlined, popping out of accepted wisdom
and seeking a more sensible way of dealing with their knowledge work.
People in management positions are often the last to "question the answers" offered by the
existing norms, because they typically got to where they are by doing
the opposite. But in the face of mounting organizational anxiety and instability, they
are themselves increasingly thrown into a process of questioning, and
are thus ripe for embracing personal knowledge management - sanctioning
what many of their employees have been discreetly doing for a long time.