Avoid a Darwin Award

Charles Darwin The stories are awful, but you’ll find it’s hard to pull your eyes away the text. In fact, each story seems worse than the one before. After reading them, you can’t help but ask yourself: Can anyone really be that dumb?

What stories are these? They are reports of the exploits of the recipients of the annual Darwin Awards. To win a Darwin Award, you must have done something truly spectacular — spectacularly stupid, that is:

In the spirit of Charles Darwin, the Darwin Awards commemorate individuals who protect our gene pool by making the ultimate sacrifice of their own lives. Darwin Award winners eliminate themselves in an extraordinarily idiotic manner, thereby improving our species’ chances of long-term survival.

So what qualifies for a Darwin award? Here is a sampling of the feats that have justified an award:

  • juggling live hand grenades
  • jumping out of a plane, to film skydivers, without a parachute
  • crashing through a window and falling to one’s death in an attempt to prove that the window contains unbreakable glass

One would be hard-pressed to come up with a comparable list for knowledge management professionals. There isn’t much in the KM toolkit that is life-threatening. However, there is something we often fail to do that makes it harder for our work to reach a more highly evolved state. What’s this common lapse? We too often fail to conduct an after action review.

What’s involved in an after action review? Start by asking three basic questions at the end of every project or phase:

  • What worked well?
  • What didn’t work well?
  • What should we do next time to improve our process and results?

By focusing on constant improvement, by eliminating the incorrect or unnecessary, you approach the Darwinian ideal of survival of the fittest. By failing to take this step, you threaten the upward trajectory of your work. It’s that simple. Yet for many of us, taking the brief moment to review and revise can seem too hard.

The next time you’re tempted to skip an after action review, ask yourself the following question: If there were Darwin Awards for KM work, would any of your projects win?

[Photo Credit: Shehal Joseph]

2 thoughts on “Avoid a Darwin Award

  1. One should remember the lesson drawn by Henri Petroski (author of the Pencil an To Engineer is Human) that success leads to a lowering of standards and failure leads to an raising of standards. If he is right about that than we should praise the winners of the Darwin awards and their ilk for their contribution.

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