April 19, 2013

Trusting Knowledge


I like facts.  I enjoy reading lists of them; I enjoy the huge variety of facts that are out there.  I believe them, they are facts after all.  I use the word ‘fact’ but some people might use the word ‘knowledge’, which is ok by me.

I buy books of facts, people give them to be as gifts, I love them.

This week I read the following ‘fact’; “In 1903, its first year of trading, Gillette sold just 168 razor blades”.

Now I am sure, like me having read this ‘fact’ that it caused a reaction in your head.  It might be

·         That’s not very many

·         Look how they have grown that business, my business could do the same

·         I didn’t know that

·         I’m going to get started with that business idea today!

·         I wonder how many they sell today

·         Etc

For me, all of those thoughts ran through my head and although I have looked on line to try to find out how many they sell today, the best I could find was that today in the USA alone, almost 2 billion (yes, billion) razor blades are discarded.

So far so good, I was enjoying this book of facts until I read one that shocked me and caused me to question whether the other ‘facts’ in the book were actually true.  Now up until I read this particular ‘fact’ I was prepared to accept that all the other ‘facts’ were in reality true.  Now I accept that it might be rather more difficult to prove or disprove something that happened a long time ago but my basic assumption was that the people who produced the book would have done their research and hence whatever the book contained was true.

We frequently get requests to design knowledge sharing systems or to help clients implement knowledge sharing in their organisation but as I reflected on my experience reading this book I was reminded of the need to provide context when sharing knowledge so that the knowledge received can verify that the knowledge is ‘true’ or ‘factually correct’.  It’s one thing to get knowledge to be shared, it is another thing to get it to be re-used.

What was the ‘fact’ that caused me to question the accuracy or validity of all the other ‘facts’ in the book?  It was the statement; “1 in 50 Scots are heroin addicts”.  I am Scottish and I know more than 50 people and I don’t know one who is a heroin addict, hence that ‘fact’ must be incorrect and if that ‘fact’ is incorrect then all the other ‘facts’ in the book must be incorrect.  It would be very, very easy for me to bin the book and dismiss it as rubbish.

The speed at which I was prepared to dismiss this book reminded me of the challenge we all face in engaging people to re-use knowledge that they didn’t create in the first place.