Joho the Blog » [2b2k] Knowledge barrelling down both tracks

[2b2k] Knowledge barrelling down both tracks

Atul Gawande has a provocative and interesting article in the New Yorker on what medicine can learn from The Cheesecake Factory: training practitioners on carefully considered standard ways of diagnosing and treating diseases.

This is a hugely important side of knowledge that Too Big to Know doffs its hat at now and then, but doesn’t discuss much. the Net has commoditized knowledge, making it incredibly easy to look up facts. In the same way, the Net is automating processes that used to require human intervention. ATMs did that for most of the transactions that used to occur in local banks, and the Net has already done it for most of the calls we used to make to the help desk of a company.

In fact, it seems that these two approaches are becoming increasingly bifurcated. (Does bifurcation admit of degrees? Oh well.) What’s automated is automated, and what is not is not. This actually feels inevitable: as our automated systems become more sophisticated, they handle more of our problems, so the problems we take to human support people are the trickier ones, and getting trickier as automation gets smarter.

We may be seeing a similarly increasing bifurcation when it comes to knowledge across the board. As more commoditized knowledge comes on line — more facts, more answers to more questions — we are freed to engage with the hardest, trickiest, most recalcitrant sorts of knowledge. The more cognitive surplus, the better.

2 Responses to “[2b2k] Knowledge barrelling down both tracks”

  1. I help customer support centers with knowledge, and your observation really rings true. It’s also has counterintuitive second-order effects.

    People assume knowledge management will make the job of service and support easier: “they’re going to take the knowledge out of my head and outsource my job to someone with less skill and training.” But in fact, as the routine and annoying work gets automated, as you point out, the job actually gets harder. Effective self-service adjusts the case mix away from known issues, towards new issues, which require more time and skill. New issues are also the ones that should be captured in a knowledge base, so knowledge becomes more tightly interwoven with the job.

    It’s great for most staff. They have time to stretch their minds, they’re doing less repetitive work, and they can help one hundred people with one call rather than just one. But managers need to be aware that call times will go up, (apparent) productivity will go down, and the skills required of their staff increase.

    On a related note, here’s the Value-Irritant matrix, a tool for thinking about the “bifurcated approaches” you mention: http://tinyurl.com/8mdq3ej (From Price and Jaffe, The Best Service is No Service)

  2. ‘The more cognitive surplus the better” [!?]
    Give a gun to a duck. The results will astound you.
    Offering the intellectual value of Mexican television as an example, the issue begs itself to differ.
    Given sufficient bicycles for the minds, riding off the cliff will become the new Olympics.

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