Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Human knowledge is not doubling every two years!!!!

It is often suggested that human knowledge is doubling every two or three years. I want to challenge this suggestion based on my knowledge in the fields of leadership, change, organization development and innovation.
I had a chance to review (an unpublished literature review) over sixty articles covering the concept of leadership for creativity and innovation. I covered the time period 2007-2014. What struck me was that articles prior to 2008 were riddled with methodological problems: they lacked controls, the measurement instruments (surveys) were claimed to be valid, when, in my professional opinion, they were not, and there was no real conceptual clarity. Thus, when we say the number studies has quadrupled since the field started in the early 80s, that is meaningless, because the quality of the studies was very lacking.
Another area where I contest the notion that knowledge has doubled is related to book publication. It is often cited that there are 300000 published every year. However, a much smaller portion is new knowledge in the form of nonfiction books. A closer examination of this sub-genre will show that there is only a small amount of new stuff under the sun. For example, an author publishes six books, but four are variations on the same theme. As a result, we do not really have six times more knowledge, but maybe something like two and a half.
Another salient problem is proliferation of concepts. What I mean by this is that several authors writing about the “same” concept independently not knowing that other authors have talked about the “same” subject. Often the other authors have a different academic background, and use different labels for the same phenomena. For example, the concept of wicked/tame problems (originally from urban planning), adaptive and technical challenges (Leadership studies), and critical/routine decisions( leadership studies). All of these are very similar, but perhaps slightly different phenomena. Thus the claims for a significant increase in knowledge is not warranted.
Some suggest that knowledge is doubling based on the increase in internet traffic; however, this is very misleading. For starters, porn, and cat videos which account for 80% of web traffic do not contribute any new knowledge. Second, a 4K video, while using four times more bandwidth when compared with a 1080p counterpart produces little additional knowledge.
Data is doubling every two years, but information is not. What would it take to truly double knowledge? First, making sure that the studies do not become routinized. In other words, making a concentrated efforts to think outside the box and make truly original contributions that matter. Second, going outside “our” field to make sure that we do not reinvent the wheel, only in this case using our own jargon. Third, making sure that we are actually measuring knowledge and information and not data. Data can be counted in bits, but knowledge has to be measured using other means.
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