Interview with David Weinberger
Why did you write 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?
Weinberger: Actually, the book began as something else. I worked for a year on an outline for a book about what’s happening to business expertise in the age of the Internet. I realized that I wanted to take a step backward and look at what’s happening to knowledge in the age of the Internet.
You write that paper is an unscalable medium. Did you consider publishing Too Big to Know in digital form only?
Weinberger: Not really—digital publication doesn’t involve advances! But seriously, I am a child of my generation; publishing still has cachet. It’s just foolish pride, but I still have self-esteem wrapped up in writing and publishing books. I also like being constrained by the limitations of paper-based publication.
Did you use other channels to conduct your research?
Weinberger: Yes, of course. I spend all day on the Web. Blogging and conducting research online are very natural to the way I work, so I would use those tools and the social web in which I live. I blogged about my ideas consistently as they were evolving.
The downside is that the Web is distracting and makes it difficult to stay on task. The Web is especially useful if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Curiosity—exploring the world—is just another kind of research. It teaches us clearly that the world is much more interesting than we ever thought.
What is the major takeaway for readers of Too Big to Know?
Weinberger: We have a well-developed knowledge ecosystem, a hugely efficient system that has generated itself [since the advent of the Internet]. Now, rather than thinking about “knowing” as “getting an answer,” we think about it as participating in a conversation. If you want your organization to be smart, think about how to engage a varied network of skills and answers.
We still need experts and people who know things, but they must be able to communicate. The people who contribute the most also have social skills, but the digital network amplifies everything.
How does that change the way we hire people to bring value to our organizations?
Weinberger: Although employees may not have the biggest reservoirs of knowledge, companies will begin paying more attention to the potential effect of a candidate’s network. Networks scale up to know more, and thus make better decisions, than any individual can. Information is amplified and enriched, so networks provide a better basis for decisions.
How will workplace learning change in the era of Too Big to Know?
Weinberger: Every organization has settled knowledge that must be managed and shared. Employees need to know how to use networked knowledge and tools. L&D people will become increasingly responsible for finding new sources of knowledge, evaluating the quality of those sources, and guiding employees to those sources. Ultimately, they will help build networks of interested, lively people.