Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren’t the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room by David Weinberger is an amazing look at how vast amounts of knowledge in our digital world has changed our ability to not only comprehend data, but how data and the internet rewire how our brain’s process information.
In a way this book is about networks of knowledge stored in databases and in people. So what happens to all the knowledge and expertise we now confront? Outside of it being somewhat accessible on the net, the large amounts of data are forcing us to reimagine data infrastructure.
This is pushing development of large “big data” solutions that will have the ability to process and dashboard results that are more easily “digestable” for larger and larger groups of people across the spectrum.
Weinberger confirms that there is so much data, information & knowledge today for the first time in our collective history that no single person can process it all. And that is not always a good thing. He stated “We see all too clearly how impotent facts are in the face of firmly held beliefs. We have access to more facts than ever before, so we can see more convincingly than ever before that facts are not doing the job we hired them for.”
And at the same time accounting for human nature – access to more data will only reinforce the worse as illustrated by Cass Sunstein: “Studies have shown that when people speak only with those with whom they agree, they not only become more convinced of their own views, they tend to adopt more extreme versions of those views.” And now you know the rest of the story.
Too Big to Know reveals in chapter eight how we are managed today. In the past we learned about Jack Welch of GE. He was the final, top decision maker for his company. But today with wikis, blogs and mobile technology GE’s strategic plans are made from the bottom up: “The CEO of General Electric could be entirely off the grid, but still GE’s engineers, product managers, and marketing folks are out on the Net, exploring and trying out the ideas that affect their branch of the larger decision tree.” Its the Wikipedia approach to business today. And this is also something Weinberger acknowledges in Don Tapscott’s work Wikinomics.
Finally I could not agree more with Weinberger’s example in chapter five regarding a marketplace of echoes. He describes the impact of David Halberstam‘s award winning The Best and the Brightest (my review here) Halberstam attempts to explain how the Kennedy White House, so full of superbly educated, dedicated men, could have failed so badly in Vietnam. The book’s world is populated by household names now known in few households: McGeorge Bundy, George Ball, Chester Bowles . . . the events it discusses are distant, recalled most often as an analogy to our worst current mistake. But Halberstam’s question remains deeply unsettling: How did the best and the brightest get us into the Hell of Vietnam? If these men, so well educated and so worldly, erred so badly, how can we trust the advice of lesser men?
No better lesson on diversity than our failure in Vietnam. This is a very good book.