one personbyte is not enough

Nick Milton refers to an interesting knowledge management concept — “‘personbyte’ – the amount of knowledge one person can reasonably learn in a lifetime. In the craftsman economy of 100 years ago, a personbyte was enough knowledge to create an impressive artefact — a steamboat, a canal, or a suspension bridge. Nowadays one personbyte is nowhere near enough to create modern products, or deliver modern services.”

So why do we have individual performance appraisals?

W. Edwards Deming called annual performance appraisals one of the five deadly diseases of management. Performance ratings are nothing more than a lottery, Deming said in 1984.


  • Arbitrary and unjust system
  • Demoralizing to employees
  • Nourishes short-term performance
  • Annihilates team work, encourages fear.

Yet performance appraisals continue in most organizations.

This does not mean that individual work has no value. For example, creativity needs just enough social connections, as well as time alone to produce. The challenge in doing creative work is having just enough regular social connections with just the right group of trusted, but diverse, people.

While work is collaborative, we still need to get out and find new ideas from our social networks, and also spend time reflecting and testing new ideas in trusted community spaces. Restricting this daily dance — between curiosity and the resolve to solve problems — by only measuring individual performance ignores the critical role that social learning plays in getting work done.

Work is not an individual effort. It is a combination team-community-network effort.

curiosity and resolve are needed to solve complex problems


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