Megan Santosus writes another short, but thoughtful column in the CIO Magazine KM Research Center for June 2004. How do we know that our knowledge is right? Testing Conventional Wisdom:
... what if that so-called "knowledge" isn't what it's made out to be? In other words, what if an organization's purported knowledge is simply conventional wisdom that has never been questioned?
The article focuses on the A&E Television Network and their e-commerce group, which has been using the nearly-instantaneous business intelligence offered on the net to test advertising copy in their banner ads in the hopes of generating more sales. With the test data in hand, they have been able to change assumptions about what attracts people to their advertising and promotions.
I find this an interesting example of how we can use technology to help weaken the walls of the boxes in which we put ourselves. If one is open to the message, there is potentially a lot to learn. This also relates to a conversation that has been happening on the AOK mailing list around knowledge claim evaluation. Those familiar with Joe Firestone and Mark McElroy will know this phrase from their writing (The New Knowledge Management and KMCI). The gist of the conversation on AOK has been around how and when we evaluate "knowledge claims." Do we take time out to reflect on the knowledge we use to operate in the world? Or does it happen as a natural part of the day? When do we take the time to check that our conventional wisdom meets the current conventions? I suspect that there needs to be set times where an individual (or organization) steps back and analyzes what she knows. At the same time, of course, there is a continual process of evaluation of new knowledge to see if it fits for that person / organization. This article gives an example of the continuous checks merged with assumption busting.
Of course, thinking outside the box is important, but there is always another box outside that box. Not only do we need to challenge ourselves, but we need to back this up with a variety of tests to help us see that walls which were there yesterday are no longer there today.