I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand
– old Chinese proverb
When explaining why it is so difficult to successfully record knowledge in a database (the primary goal of too many knowledge management systems), I use the example of tying shoelaces.
Imagine that an alien just walked through the door, never having seen shoelaces before. In order to avoid being zapped by the military, it is crucial that the alien put on a pair of shoes with laces (humour me here). Would you:
a) Show the alien how to tie shoelaces
b) Hand the alien the ‘How to tie shoelaces’ manual
How easy would it be to write a detailed, alien-proof, set of instructions on the art of tying shoelaces? Compared to just passing the knowledge on direct by showing the alien how to do it.
Successful knowledge support systems concentrate on getting people working together, sharing knowledge and expertise. The end result will be more knowledge acquired and shared by more people than could ever be recorded in a database. The following quote says it all:
“Knowledge in a database is like food in a freezer. Nothing ever came out in better shape than it went in.”
– Frances Cairncross, The Company of the Future
Trying to cover all potential caveats when attempting to record knowledge is incredible difficult. Invariably either the context gets lost or the knowledge becomes too simplified to be of any real value.
…so, next time you happen to need to teach a pair of newbies how to tie their shoelaces, point one to the web site and teach the other one yourself – see who masters the art first…