Knowledge management is not a fad

In his excellent article Who owns a scientist’s mind?, historian Douglas O’Reagan describes how business managers have tried to protect the know-how of their companies. Firms own real estate, machines, software and patents. But how can they control the ideas and experience inside their employees’ minds?

Because the article was written for Physics Today, the focus is on the tacit knowledge of industrial physicists. However, some of its lessons extend beyond engineering.

I just want to comment on one thing. The author describes Knowledge Management (KM) as a fad:

Business interest in controlling tacit knowledge did not fade, however. It would return in several forms, perhaps most visibly in a 1990s business management fad called knowledge management (KM).

It’s true that management gurus and software vendors tend to hype expectations in order to sell ‘solutions’. But good knowledge management is very valuable to companies and most definitely not a fad.

So I was relieved that O’Reagan is more nuanced about KM later in his article. He explains how the focus of KM shifted from technology to human-centered KM1. In addition, some practices seem so obvious now that we don’t think of them as KM anymore:

At a basic level, some of KM’s key insights, such as the value of encouraging employees to maintain informal social networks throughout the industry, became even more a normal part of business than they had been.

In my own courses, I always stress that KM doesn’t imply extra tech or bureaucracy. On the contrary, if you’re doing it right, you’ll have more time to focus on your core competencies.

Preparing physics students for 21st-century careers

Are universities teaching physics students the things they need to succeed in the real world? The vast majority of physicists don’t work as physics professors. Jobs outside of physics departments often require skills that are less important for an academic career.

In Physics Today (open access during November 2017), professors Laurie McNeil and Paula Heron discuss how universities can teach relevant business skills, without neglecting the physics curriculum. Based on statistical data and interviews, they show that there is much room for improvement. Continue reading “Preparing physics students for 21st-century careers”

Two publication cultures: economics versus physics

In a recent blog post, professor Roger Farmer comments on the publishing process in economics. He writes that economic journal publishing is “a process that is highly centralised around five leading journals. These are the American Economic Review, the Quarterly Journal of Economics, the Review of Economic Studies, Econometrica and the Journal of Political Economy. For a young newly appointed lecturer, publishing a paper in one of these top five journals is a pre-requisite for promotion in a leading economic department […]” Continue reading “Two publication cultures: economics versus physics”

Michael Lewis on the US Department of Energy (highly recommended!)

Michael Lewis, the author of The Big Short, has written a great article for Vanity Fair.

Why the scariest nuclear threat may be coming from inside the White House is a fascinating portrait of the Department of Energy.

If you’re interested in politics, management, innovation, nuclear weapons or environmental pollution, you should read the article now. Continue reading “Michael Lewis on the US Department of Energy (highly recommended!)”

What do physicists do? Research, software, and finance

After I got my PhD in physics, I started working for a bank. People often ask why I left physics. I usually reassure them by saying that this career choice isn’t exceptional. In fact, most physicists don’t work “in physics”.

A report by the American Institute of Physics (AIP) tracked down physicists working in the private sector, who earned their PhDs in the U.S. about ten years earlier. The respondents were employed in a variety of industries, working as consultants, managers, (software) engineers, etc.

But what about the rest of the world? Are the AIP findings representative for all physicists? Continue reading “What do physicists do? Research, software, and finance”