Knowledge Management: The Knowledge Iceberg

Research papers often present interesting results to the community, by describing in extended detail the conditions under which they obtained some sort of interesting result.

However, it is not generally advised to say anything up about the thousands of tries (failures). Yet, any researcher does has the same story:  a long list of changes of parameter, in order to obtain incrementally something successful.

Some of those changes yield improvement, other changes don’t. In fact, most of the time, the experiments you carry out either provide chaotic results you can’t reproduce, nothing like what you’re trying to achieve or if you’re lucky  funny things like massive bacteria, pollen or even microscopic insects on a contaminated sample in my case. It was fun because I spent a lot of time with a EBM, those microscopes that are used to show you what eye cells of a fly look like. I liked pollen more than bacteria, the shapes are fun…Anyway! So yeah, most of the time, you change your parameters, and you get different things, but not what you want.

These useless cause-consequence facts are useless and useful at the same time. They could be used to save other people’s time and maybe direct them on new unexplored tracks. One thing is for sure, these cause-consequence facts (micro-failures, micro-improvements, or accidents) are generally not documented in papers, and end up stored in individual souls, deep in the rubbish knowledge department…re-discovered on and on everyday by other people who replicate the same useless experiments, and whom won’t share that either…and so on.


You see coming the idea that some people’s rubbish is other people’s gold. History of innovation is full of such stories. What is not useful to you maybe to another with other objectives. But instead, research papers barely present the log of their scientific journey. It is just not in the current trend to do so. But would it be against any of the aims of research? Think about it, and find me ONE reason why it cannot become a requirement of research papers. Why do we only require success experimental conditions and not failure experimental conditions? To me one or the other provides just as much wonder, but effort is only made on explaining why things work. Wouldn’t we be stuck if a naive seven year old genuinely asked “But WHY, WHY does it not work?”. There are more failures in this world than there are successes. Because our emotional response differs when exposed to each, we are biased to (mistakenly) grant more importance to explaining why things work.  I strongly believe that we are missing out by not documenting and explaining with the same passion when things don’t work.

Ego. It seems indeed that authors and publishing authorities may hold too much pride in accepting to show the world their numerous ridiculous tries and the epic failures. “It would be masochism” some may say.

We do learn from our mistakes. But in innovation and research, where everyone is dedicated to contributing to science, wouldn’t be a good thing to learn from the mistakes of each other as well?

In innovation class, I was taught that failure is OK as long as you learn from it. Once the lesson learnt it becomes knowledge. That’s how we grow up since birth, we try a whole lot of things with no limits, and we complement that with a  long list of “don’t do this, don’t do that”. These conditions us to do the right things for the purpose we want to achieve : i.e. living in a community and in harmony with others. Therefore if mistakes are knowledge, how come it is not shared? I was also taught in that class the importance of recycling knowledge, but it was about your own knowledge. How about the communities start to recycle their knowledge, but literally : take the dump knowledge and let someone else do something out of it.

How many researchers, at some point of time, are doing for their first time a process that is well known by another?
How many entrepreneurs in the world are re-creating a business based on ideas and business models (and other identical conditions) that have been proofed to NOT work?

Quite many, yes. What is the point in doing the exact same mistakes to reach the exact same conclusions?

The purpose we are born with as a species involves at the core : Transcending the existent. So let’s not waste our time learning that fire burns.

Of course a good literature review may provide you with documentation on what has been done so far. But let’s say you’re doing exploratory research, the way to achieve your goal will by definition not be documented. Nonetheless, you could get elements that help you reach them, had they been documented when “uselessly” found by others…

In a nutshell, the useless knowledge of others, if shared, may be very useful for you, if not be a pillar of your experimentation conditions.

In this fashion, had there been widespread tools of Knowledge Management, it would be interesting to ask researchers, FOR THEIR OWN BENEFIT, to contribute by documenting all their processes no matter what they yield. Thus, cause-consequence phenomenons would be stored and will benefit the community. This hidden part of the iceberg should be considered just as much as we consider the importance of the research papers themselves.

Such a tool would be a great assistant for innovation. Innovation is the result of a certain sort of intelligence, and intelligence is defined as the ability to make links between things. This process of linking things can be aided by computers to a large extent. All it takes is someone to develop the tools to insert and extract on-demand knowledge, more specifically the cause-consequence facts in technological processes.

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