A wise man knows one thing – the limits of his knowledge


If you haven’t come across Prof John Kay before but “get” the following, I can recommend more of his writings. He is a regular contributor to FT and wrote an excellent book with invaluable lessons on modern business life: Obliquity

…I have been looking at some of the models people use, in both the public and private sectors to predict events.

The models share a common approach. They pose the question: “How would we make our decision if we had complete knowledge of the world?” With such information you might make a detailed assessment drawing together many different pieces of relevant information on matters such as costs, benefits, and consequences.

But little of this knowledge exists. So you make the missing data up. You assume the future will be like the past, or you extrapolate a trend. Whatever you do, no cell on the spreadsheet may be left unfilled. If necessary, you put a finger in the air.

John Kay – A wise man knows one thing – the limits of his knowledge.

If we now know what we “don’t know”, we should already know that, underestimating the unknown (unknowable?!) impact of future (unforeseen or unforeseeable) events, based upon assumptions, carries unknown dangers.

Organizations need to learn to distinguish between the kinds of problems that can be handled with traditional perspectives, where precise prediction and solution is possible, and the kinds of problems associated with unavoidable complexity.

Entrainment of thinking is an ever-present danger.

Knowledge Economy: business as PART OF (not apart from) community


I you are at all “read” in the broad subject of complexity you may already be aware of the established links between: information – learning – intelligence – complexity – innovation. If not, this recent article from Wall Street Journal, about  a report, The Atlas of Economic Complexity may be of interest.

But elements of this blog item (apart from a useful infographic) really struck home and I wanted to share it. We have had the usual ham-fisted attempt by Politicians to promote the “Big Society” as if, by sticking a label on it, they could lay claim to a successful strategy…or blame citizens and society if/when it doesn’t work as hoped! In truth, whilst the “spirit” is sound, when delivered by Government against a backdrop of Austerity, it sounded and smelt like more “top down” BS!

I’ve been looking at ways to explain why social learning is so important for business today. It comes down to the fact that what we know and do inside our organizations is insufficient to address external complexity or to be innovative

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