…this terrible pain in all the diodes down my left side.

February 5, 2012

David Griffiths indulged in a little head banging this morning, and give he is in the same state of nervous anticipation for the same reason as I, no blame can be attached. His subject is a reaction to the latest KM is dead pronouncement, something I suggested some time ago, although the death throws are taking longer than I anticipated. Larry Prusak's “deadman walking” was probably more apt in the interview he and I did on the subject with Patrick Lambe. Just to be clear here, its not that the proper subject of KM (decision support, innovation, learning etc.) is dead, but that knowledge management as a strategic movement has served its time and is now irretrievably seen as a sub-function of IT. I'm happy to debate that. but my purpose today is different, its the question of technology and people which comes up in multiple contexts.


David says that people are at the heart of the process and the definition of a problem should not start with technology and its difficult not to have sympathy with the statement. I wonder though if this is still the case. these days the speed of change of technology and the sheet capabilities that are opened up mean that sometimes we start with the technology and the people follow. OK the focus should remain the same, but the starting point is more open.

Brian Arthur's wonderful book The Nature of Technology: What it is and How it Evolves provides a complexity based framework from which we can examine the evolution of technology itself, and the co-evolution of humans with their tools and consequent examples of exaction. I have also argued that we moved from a state where technology (more specifically computer technology was seen as a fetish to one where it is a pervasive tool, and therefore starts to have utility. Tools, and technology is a tool, are a part of our identity as a species for good or ill. Indeed given the state of the planet our dependency on multiple exaptive moments for survival cannot be over emphasised so may be it is time we started to move beyond the technology/people dichotomy.


Now I admit that in saying this I need to acknowledge that a decade or so ago I could well have written David's post, arguing the same position. To be fair to myself I used to contrast techno-fetishits with new age fluffy bunnies (the origin of my use of the term) over a decade ago. However at that time I was only just starting to think through some of the implications of complexity science in human systems and realising that evolutionary biology and cognitive sciences had to be added into the mix. It took some time to think that through (see my post about new and old wine a few days ago). So with that partial apology for past sin out of the way let me move on.

I think we need to start to realise that technology, in particular transforming technologies may well be the starting place for practice. Its an old adage that if you have a hammer everything is a nail, but its also true that once you have a hammer then you can do something with nails. Think of the radical change that Twitter and to a lesser extent Facebook have wrought not just for passing around information but on the whole question of human identity. We are these days formed by our virtual networks as much as by our physical ones. As they gain capability, then they enable and sometimes enact competences of which were unaware or had abandoned as too difficult.

So, as I think its time to move on from knowledge management per se, so I think it may be time to move on from the technology v people debate which was an essential part of the knowledge management period. Maybe its time to stop waiting outside the Restaurant at the End of the Universe?.

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