David Snowden has expanded his three rules to seven principles. Now I have to wonder if there are nine rules somewhere. And if there is One Rule to Bind them All. Rendering Knowledge (rules excerpted)
- Knowledge can only be volunteered it cannot be conscripted. [original]
- We only know what we know when we need to know it. [original]
- In the context of real need few people will withhold their knowledge.
- Everything is fragmented.
- Tolerated failure imprints learning better than success.
- The way we know things is not the way we report we know things.
- We always know more than we can say, and we will always say more than we can write down. [original]
The four new elements sound familiar from David’s other writing. Taking time to think about these principles and the additional context David gives them, they begin to sound like common sense. Of course people learn from failures. Of course we build things from fragments of other things. But then why do we forget this common sense when building approaches to knowledge management? Maybe not so common?
Yes, these are common sense but so often not observed. Many organizations do not tolerate failure, making their lack of innovation obvious.
When I was in Junior High School, we played a game called bulls and cows. One person tried to guess a 4 digit number the other person had written down. If the guess has a number in the right position, it counts as a bull. If the guess has the right number in the wrong spot, it is a cow. So the correct answer results in 4 bulls.
Now there are about 4500 possible numbers (assume no repeated numbers and you can’t have a zero in the first position) so having some sort of system helps. Like start with ‘1234’. But the absolute best answer is ‘no bulls- no cows.’ Complete failure to guess the number.
This results in the removal of 40% of the possibilities in a single guess. No other choice is as helpful in narrowing down the possibilities. Failing actually gets you to the answer sooner than an initial success of 1 cow.
This game taught me that failure can be much more helpful than a slight success. We see that so much today. Failing does not usually cost too much and can get the group to success much more rapidly by reducing the degrees of freedom one has to work with. It is generally corporate culture that hampers this path.
Those organizations that can tolerate failure will learn faster and innovate at a much more rapid pace. Not necessarily because they are smarter. They are just informed by their failures, narrowing down the possibilities that eventually result in success.