Cib 2004 conference: mondayΒΆ

Tags: aec

So, the first day of cib 2004 in Toronto. The hotel is pretty good and luckily it has a wireless network, as the conference itself hasn't got a single PC hooked up to the Internet. It's a pretty expensive conference and a pretty expensive-looking conference center, so you'd expect them to have gotten out of the technological stone age. Not one Internet pc... amateurish.

Well, the wireless connection at the hotel is pretty bad. Half of the time I don't have a connection. But, thanks to Henk at the university who bought a wireless card for this laptop, I can at least check my email and post something to the web.

Ok, on to the conference. Keynotes

This morning we had the usual keynote speakers. Two of them were nice to listen to. The Ontario minister of infrastructure had a nice view in the political/technical kitchen. The second good one was Oral Buyukozturk who gave an overview of high-rise buildings (skyscrapers). Apparently enough of the structural engineering part of my civil engineering study has been preserved, as I understood his entire talk :-)

One thing that had a big impact on the field, of course, was the wtc attack. At MIT they've done some initial finite-element-like studies on the actual impact. A boeing crashing into a building does so with a large amount of kinetic energy, which has to be absorbed. Their estimation at the moment is that the exterior columns took only 3% off of the energy. They were slashed through cleanly, both by the fuselage and by the wings. The core of the building took 28%, the aircraft deformation 25% and the floor structure 53%.

The WTC had actually excellent "system redundancy". With half the columns on one side ripped through, the other columns took over that load without any problems. The building stayed upright for a few hours!

The problem was in the "local redundancy", especially the connection between the floors and the columns. There the fire took out the relatively small supports, which didn't have any backup. So one floor came down, then the next, etc, until one floor couldn't take the weight of the floors now resting upon him and went down immediately. That was the point at which everything went down.

Peter Barrett unanticipated impacts of research on practice

In the afternoon Peter Barrett delivered a good talk on the unanticipated impacts of research on practice. It is part of a series of "disruptive studies" which aim to question commonly held beliefs that might use a shake-up. In this particular case it considered the transfer of knowledge from research to industry. The idea was that it might well be a tacit process instead of the commonly supposed explicit process.

  • Explicit in this case means the "official" transfer of knowledge through articles, papers, trade shows, workshops. The knowledge is explicitly transferred.
  • Tacit means "implied but not spoken" according to the dictionary. So it's more people speaking to people who heard somewhere that...

They did a bit of social network research and snowballing research (a snowball that grows: A tells B, B tells C and D, C tells E and F, etc). A couple of results (I didn't have time to write them all down):

  • People are an important vector of knowledge transfer. People change jobs and thereby transfer knowledge. People go into private consultancy from a research position and thereby transfer. Etc.
  • Denial of source. People often bring something as their own idea, while in fact they got it from someone else. They want to be the bringer of new ideas and hide their source.
  • There are lot of effective advocates and you need a lot of effective advocates. Normally management is seen as a hindrance for the usage of research results, but effective advocates are the ones that normally handle this process. They have to be (made) confident of the research results, so that they can confidentally move it past management.

Explicit transfers of knowledge have a begin, an end and a tangible medium (like an article in the trade press).

Tacit transfers is more like you "catch" something. Virus-like. Air-borne instead of paper-born. Socially contagious.

When something jumps tacitly from one person to the next, normally say 50% of the message gets lost or garbled. The next jump 25% is retained. After 4 jumps you only have 6.25% of the message left. Bad? No, actually. The assumption is that it has spread to a reasonably large amount of people. Who probably got passed the part of the original message that was more or less useful to them. you should not mind that some technical details didn't make it through the process. At least not if you wouldn't have reached that audience with your techically correct paper-based message anyway :-)

Conlusions

  • There is an undue reliance on the explicit, formal, paper-based knowledge transfer. (I've seen this also partly in Ziga Turk his paper which I'll write on later this week, he also advocated less paperwork for European projects and more interaction with the industry, visiting them and such).
  • Tacit transfers are uniquely responsible for the diffusion of knowledge.
  • You won't ever know the real impact of the tacit part :-)
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My name is Reinout van Rees and I work a lot with Python (programming language) and Django (website framework). I live in The Netherlands and I'm happily married to Annie van Rees-Kooiman.

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