Gunpowder, KM and Elections

Ready for Guy Fawkes Day? When I was a child, we celebrated Guy Fawkes’ Day on November 5. For those of you who aren’t up on your British history, Guy Fawkes was one of a group of conspirators who planned to blow up the House of Lords in the infamous “Gunpowder Plot” of 1605. The aim of the conspirators was to assassinate the king, as well as the assembled members of Parliament, in protest of a lack of religious tolerance. If successful, this would have touched off a Catholic revolt in the country.

During my childhood we were directed to mark the occasion by building a bonfire, burning an effigy of Guy Fawkes and enjoying a fireworks display. As a practical matter, this often meant charring a small scarecrow in an oil drum while holding a sparkler in your hand. All in all, a bit of a come down.

Fast forward to November 5, 2012 and Guy Fawkes has some lessons for law firm knowledge management:

  • Good Search is Invaluable. While admittedly the search conducted in 1605 was a physical one, it bears remembering that good search tools and techniques can help avert disaster. If you had a ticking time bomb in one of your data repositories, would you know how to find it?
  • Beware of Leaks. The Gunpowder Plot failed in part due to an anonymous letter of warning sent to Baron Monteagle that resulted in a search of the undercroft of the Houses of Parliament where the gunpowder was stored. When it comes to data security, do you know where you might be vulnerable to leaks or attack?
  • Plan for Delay. The plotters thought they were ready, but they didn’t plan for delay. Therefore, they were caught short when an outbreak of the plague pushed back the opening of parliament from July to November. That was more than enough time for their stockpile of gunpowder to decay. Consequently, they had to replenish their stocks, thereby adding danger and cost to the enterprise.
  • Avoid Decay. Gunpowder is not the only thing that decays. More pertinent for knowledge workers is the fact that our knowledge decays. This means that we can’t rely on memorized facts to guide our decisions and actions. Rather, we have to keep learning, keep looking things up. Only by being constantly aware of the fragility of or knowledge can we hope to stay on the cutting edge of knowledge.

It is sometimes said that Guy Fawkes was the last person to enter the Houses of Parliament with honest intentions. Whether you agree or not, we now have more options available to us. This leads me to a final lesson from Guy Fawkes:

  • Forget the Gunpowder, just VOTE! On the night before the US elections, it’s good to be reminded that we have peaceful means of bringing about the government we want.  You can complain all you want about politician X or Y, but if you don’t actually get to the polls on November 6 to act on your concerns then you are no more effective than Guy Fawkes.

[Photo Credit: Archie McPhee]

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