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Psycho-cognitive search- A steroid for KM?

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Software for search, content processing and analytics is evolving. Google's massive trove of user data gives the company an asset that it can use to personalize its search results. Will the enterprise be able to tap discoveries in the field of cognitive psychology to crack some of the most difficult problems in knowledge management?

Like remodeling a kitchen

Cognitive psychology has been an important area of research for decades. The best-selling Thinking, Fast and Slow has helped popularized some of the discipline's potential. Daniel Kahneman, winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize in economics, struck a nerve in his explanation of the two systems humans use for thinking. The main point of his book, in my opinion, is that making certain decisions based on intuition can lead to conclusions that are problematic.

In a nutshell, when probabilities and certain types of data must be processed, humans use "gut instinct," not mathematical analysis. Thinking: Fast and Slow, like many mass market books, blends buzzwords like "framing" and "sunk cost" along with easy-to-understand examples that hit home, such as undertaking projects that are likely to cost more than planned. The example Kahneman uses is remodeling a kitchen. Many enterprise knowledge management deployments experience similar problems.

In his Nobel Prize speech, Kahneman said: "A general framework such as the one offered here is not a substitute for domain-specific concepts and theories. For one thing, general frameworks and specific models make different ideas accessible. Novel ideas and compelling examples are perhaps more likely to arise from thinking about problems at a lower level of abstraction and generality. However, a broad framework can be useful if it guides a principled search for analogies across domains, to identify common processes and to prevent overly narrow interpretations of findings." (See nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/economic-sciences/laureates/2002/kahnemann-lecture.pdf.)

Removing shackles?

Psycho-cognitive methods might provide information retrieval systems with a way to move beyond the shackles of key word matching and popularity-centric systems. Several significant challenges have to be addressed before enterprise knowledge management systems can deliver information that cultivates more informed decisions. Those hurdles include finding ways to incorporate additional numerical recipes into already complex, computationally intensive systems. In today's enterprise environment, cost constraints may limit the diffusion of certain next-generation processes.

Users, particularly those in organizations that face increased competitive and financial pressure, may have difficulty identifying approaches that add value and approaches that are marketing ploys. As the cognitive research demonstrates, making decisions about complex problems in which numerical literacy is more important than intuition is difficult.

Nevertheless, savvy organizations know that the expectations for semantics, taxonomies and natural language processing have not been met. As a result, a fresh approach, based on scientific and economic research, may offer a path forward. The findability problems in organizations are a basic symptom of knowledge mismanagement.

As Kahneman said, "Intuitive judgments occupy a position—perhaps corresponding to evolutionary history—between the automatic operations of perception and the deliberate operations of reasoning."

The task becomes looking at new ways to link the islands of content, information access and decision-making. No item of information is an island. Perhaps the psycho-cognitive approach offers a blueprint for higher-value knowledge management. Will other French search and content processing vendors place more emphasis on psycho-cognitive methods? 

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