October 30, 2010

Using What You Already Know

We frequently read that ‘lessons will be learned’ when something goes wrong in the public sector. It doesn’t seem to matter what it is but the same old line, ‘lessons will be learned’ is trotted out. Now while the concept of learning lessons is an excellent one, what interests me is why the lesson needed to be learned in the first place.

Let me give you an example. A great friend of mine recently broke his ankle (it later turned out that it was a ligament strain, but that’s another story). How did it happen, he ran down stairs trying to catch a London Underground train that was sitting at the platform. Now he is an educated person and experienced in using the London Underground and yet he ran down the stairs. He also knew that the next train would be along in 3 minutes, yes 3 minutes. If you want to know how long 3 minutes is try holding your breath, when you can’t hold it any longer that will be about 2 minutes. If you could save 3 minutes what would you use it for? If you wanted to make tea the kettle probably wouldn’t have boiled. So why did he do it?

I think the answer might be the same as in many companies, they get caught up in the task and don’t take time to reflect on what they are about to do. In this case the task was ‘catch the train sitting at the platform’, that was all that mattered, thinking about risk or applying knowledge that was already known (running down stairs is dangerous) wasn’t applicable, completing the task is all.

To highlight this mindset we once described a company as ‘ready, fire, aim’ rather than the more appropriate ‘ready, aim, fire’ which normally produces more acceptable results. So as you enter the new work week are you so focused on the task that you aren’t applying knowledge that you already have and have fallen into the ‘ready, fire, aim’ or ‘let’s run down stairs’ mentality.

Be safe, apply knowledge you already have.

Knoco Ltd

October 3, 2010

The Smell of Ancient Knowledge

I am currently working in a client's office that as one of those physical assets that many companies have scrapped.............a library.

What a wonderful resource. I know that some of those who read this blog will immediatley respond that it can all be found online but walking between those shelves just brought back wonderful memories of firstly my visits to the library as a child with my Dad and then in later years hours spent in the University library.

This library even has a 'special collection' of historical books behind a locked door. You can see these very old books through the glass windows and if you speak nicely to them the librarian will let you in. The smell is of ancient knowledge. It is something that everything should experience at least once in their lifetime.

I was in wonderland and then it happened...........there it was sitting on the shelf, a book on calculus. Oh the hours I spent trying to master calculus. I couldn't resist it, I picked up the book and flicked through the pages and guess what, it didn't come flooding back to me. I guess all those hours of learning calculus are now too deeply hidden in the depths of my memory.

What have you done recently that you expect to be able to recall at a future date? If you are going to rely on your memory, just remember me and calculus.

Knoco Ltd

October 2, 2010

Do industries make repeat mistakes?

If you ask any company what they want to achieve from knowledge management one of the reason that they will often forward is to avoid repeating past mistakes. Given how common this response is I found myself wondering if industries make repeat mistakes.

I found an interesting paper from International Desalination Association World Congress: SP05-036 which would tend to suggest that the answer is yes, industries do repeat mistakes.

The paper suggests that the history of corrosion failures in Sea Water Reverse Osmosion (SWRO) plants is as old as the history of the technology. SWRO plants are used around the world to convert sea water to fresh drinking water. The paper suggests that it started with a plant commissioned in 1979 where a particular type of high-pressure piping was used. Within a few years the piping should that it was inadequate for the duty.

Plants were commissioned in the 1983, 1986 and 1989 in at least three different geographical locations which all should the same corrosion. When the world’s largest SWRO plant was commissioned in 1989 it again suffered the same fate. Although each of these plants in turn exhibited poor performance, the continual desire to use less costly materials resulted in the continued use of the same material.

Even as recently as 2003 newly commissioned plants were exhibiting the same problems with the same materials. As the paper puts it, “…… implies a certain gambling when specifying this grade for SWRO plants.”

So not only companies make repeat mistakes, it would appear that industries do it as well.

Knoco Ltd