Re: How would you describe this knowledge failure? #question #strategy #culture

Patrick Lambe

If I understand your issue correctly, Dorothy Leonard-Barton described this rather usefully as a “core rigidity” - i.e. a core capability that is no longer useful; a deeply embedded knowledge set that actively inhibits our ability to innovate or respond to competitive needs: “the very same values, norms and attitudes that support a core capability and thus enable development can also constrain it” (Leonard-Barton 1992: 118-119).

I think it is useful to think of it in capability terms, because capabilities are bundles of structures, people, skills, routines, habits, which means this is not just a psychological issue, but one of unwinding the structural elements that reinforce the previous practices. There is a whole literature on deliberate forgetting/unlearning approaches in relation to these rigidities.

Leonard-Barton, D. (1992) ‘Core capabilities and core rigidities: a paradox in
managing new product development’ Strategic Management Journal, 13 (Summer):


Patrick Lambe
Straits Knowledge

phone:  +65 98528511

knowledge mapping:

On 13 Jan 2022, at 9:55 PM, Joitske Hulsebosch <joitske@...> wrote:

Ha Stephen, 

I would simply call this 'culture' :). 
Cultures are not that fast to change. As is illustrated by the 5 monkey story. Long after the sprinkling stopped they are scared..

Cheers, Joitske 

On Thu, 13 Jan 2022 at 02:51, Stephen Bounds <km@...> wrote:


I am hoping to draw on your hivemind to see if there's a good term out there for a very particular phenomena that I am observing.

Most of us would be familiar with the "sunk cost fallacy", the idea that any decision should ignore past costs (either time or money) when making a future decision. It is common to stick with initiatives long past any rational reason to do so, typically for reasons of commitment bias and loss aversion.

 The phenomenon I am seeking to explain is one rooted in a knowledge failure. It occurs when an organisation implements solutions in response to a problem, but then sustains those solution long past their useful life. I suspect that this is especially common after an extended period of process optimisation that is built on base knowledge which then becomes outdated.

After some reflection, I have reminded myself that the "double loop learning" process proposed by Argyris can be a solution to this problem. But I don't think this helpfully describes the failure. "Failure to engage in double loop learning" is gobbledygook to anyone outside of KM. "Retaining bad assumptions" is too vague for the situation.

The scenario I am particularly thinking of is:

  1. The solution made sense and worked when it was devised
  2. The environment changes, making some prior knowledge invalid and the previous solution ineffective or an outright failure (generally the failure must be partial or subtle, excusable as an "outlier" or "temporary" aberration)
  3. The organisation is biased towards keeping the practice in place despite rising evidence to the contrary since everyone "knows it works"

A high-profile example of this failure was the shift to digital downloads at the turn of the millennium. The music industry lost nearly half its revenue during a consumer-led revolt against the traditional model of album-based, physical CD sales.

The problem is that while in a competitive marketplace such flawed reasoning gets exposed relatively quickly, in a monopolistic situation (particularly in government) there is less pressure to fix these issues. It is generally only after a significant number of patently absurd outcomes get publicised that serious reform is considered -- and until then, lots of unnecessary human suffering can occur.

So: I need a snappy name to describe this knowledge failure. Got any good ideas?


Stephen Bounds
Executive, Information Management
E: stephen.bounds@...
M: 0401 829 096

Joitske Hulsebosch, Ennuonline


Ons nieuwe boek 'Blended leren ontwerpen' is uit. Je kunt het hier bestellen of de preview lezen op managementboek. 

Join to automatically receive all group messages.