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Do knowledge management experts exist?

In the excellent Veritasium video The 4 things it takes to be an expert, four essential tests are proposed for true mastery and expertise in any discipline:

  1. Valid environment – a situation governed by predictable rules rather than chance.
  2. Many repetitions – the ability to attempt a similar task repeatedly.
  3. Timely feedback – the ability to identify outcomes and incorporate them into learning via feedback.
  4. Deliberate practice – a conscious effort to push your expertise beyond your current skill level.

The video notes the common capability of master craftspeople to “chunk” information – to spot complex patterns in an array of information consistently and accurately. This is a skill that can be acquired in virtually anything through practice.

However, this process or “chunking” can be worthless or actively harmful if you are not working in a valid environment – that is, a situation where inputs do not correlate to outputs in a meaningful way, as with the attempts by gamblers to spot patterns in the red and black results on a roulette wheel.

A particularly disconcerting comparison, from a knowledge management (KM) perspective, is the study finding that after asking 284 highly-educated professionals who studied social and economic trends over a number of years, their predictions were worse than any predictions of random chance.

The obvious follow-up question is: Can someone working in KM ever truly expect to become an expert? Since:

  • It is entirely unclear whether we can ever operate in a valid environment, giving the inherent complexity of the systems we work in.
  • Most practitioners only have the ability to practice a significant number of repetitions in a single or few organisations, rarely trying to generalise beyond their specific domain.
  • Much of our feedback is delayed, diffused, or non-existent to the point or unusability.
  • There are few to no defined areas for KM practitioners to extend their expertise systematically.

I personally remain confident that it is too soon to give up on the idea of true KM expertise. Medicine took hundreds of years to evolve beyond miasma and bloodletting, after all. However, this video is an excellent reminder of the size of the mountain we have yet to climb.

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Stephen Bounds

Stephen Bounds is an Information and Knowledge Management Specialist with a wide range of experience across the government and private sectors. As founding editor of RealKM and Executive, Information Management at Cordelta, Stephen provides clear strategic thinking along with a hands-on approach to help organisations successfully develop and implement modern information systems.

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