This is the start of a series of posts on what I consider to be fallacies of knowledge management.
Some ten years ago, I used to be in the habit of printing good articles I came across on the internet. Sometimes, fifty pages at one go. But I wasn't able to keep up with reading all that I was printing. Yet, the act of printing and possessing the content seemed to offer some kind of reassurance. After all, I could read it anytime I wanted to. I realized the folly of my ways when I had to relocate for my next job. I had fifteen kilos of mostly unread, somewhat dusty, printed material. I was faced with the choice of dumping them (with all the associated guilt of wasted resources) or paying to transport them in the hope of catching up some day.
Then I grew a little wise. I started merely saving stuff to my hard disk instead of printing. I created a folder '2bRead' (still have it) and started growing my repository of wisdom there (or so I thought) - whitepapers, presentations, podcasts, videos, you name it. As the folder grew in size, I began to forget what was in there. I used to search on the internet for stuff I already had. Desktop search only partially solved the problem. The indexes began to grow huge and it didn't keep track of deletes well - I used to get false results. It also didn't help that I used to switch between operating systems.
Then came del.icio.us and I thought an end to my woes. Several bookmarks and tags later, I realized that I was spending more time bookmarking and tagging than actually reading and assimilating. It wasn't because I was an obsessive compulsive organiser (far from it). It was just that I often didn't have the time to study something when I came across it - it was much easier (and reassuring) to just bookmark and tag it.
Now I use a much harsher approach - read it then and there or forget it. You might be more disciplined than I am and might find this absurd but I suspect I am not alone. Individuals and organisations are struggling to keep up with the assimilation of information. So they tend to resort to what seems to be the next best thing - the collecting of information. However, this tends to be mostly a futile exercise. It might be more useful to focus on assimilation of information whenever 'information events' happen - talks, presentations, meetings. Focussing on recording and distributing (or storing centrally) in the hope of future assimilation is going to be increasingly ineffective.
Favour individuals and interactions over artifacts and repositories.
Favour context rich conversations over mostly context free collateral.
After all, we don't manage knowledge within digital repositories. We can only hope to curate information within them. Knowledge can only reside in people's heads. Efforts to improve knowledge should therefore focus on assimilation via collaboration rather than on curating information.