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
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that is built on base knowledge which then becomes outdated.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 scenario I am particularly thinking of is:
- The solution made sense and worked when it was devised
- 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)
- 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
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?
Executive, Information Management
M: 0401 829 096