Saturday, May 1, 2010

What is the relevance paradox?

This from a Wiki article, (emphasis mine):

The Relevance Paradox occurs where individual, professionals or groups of professionals are unaware of certain essential information which would guide them to better decisions, and help avoid inevitable, unintended and undesirable consequences, but lacking the information, they don't see its relevance so don't seek it. Affected persons will only seek the information and advice they think they need as opposed to what they actually need to meet their own or the organization's goals.

For example a Civil Engineers from the 1950s onwards unwittingly caused an increase in the debilitating water borne infection schistosomiasis (Bilharzia) for locals as a result of irrigation schemes not having simple low cost counter-measures built in. UN guidelines had been published in the 1960s describing cheap control measures that could be built-in to the structures of the irrigation schemes. Bilharzia Schistosomiasis or bilharzia is a disease affecting many people in developing countries.

The Civil Engineers were victims of the relevance paradox to the extent they only thought they needed to know about concrete, water flows etc. Not how to restrict velocities to prevent the snail species which carried the disease from multiplying.

Other examples include the NASA engineers who having spent a fortune on unsuccessfully developing the complex sliding and articulating inside knee joint needed for space suits eventually went to the Tower of London and ruefully copied the armour of Henry the Eighth with just such a joint – stating “we wish we had known about this earlier!”

Or the astonishing and not widely appreciated fact that the UK wastes heat from power stations equal to the entire import of natural gas for heating, which is an amazing example of the relevance paradox and hierarchical incompetence of particular relevance 30 years on now that fears are growing about inadequate reserves of natural gas.

Thus the “Relevance Paradox” can and does apply to entire professional groups and individuals in numerous ways.

The notions of IRGs or Information Routing Groups and Interlock research are desigined to counter this paradox by the promotion of lateral communication and the flow of Tacit knowledge. An Information Routing Group (or IRG) is one of a semi-infinite set of similar interlocking and overlapping groups each IRG containing a group of ( maybe 3 to 200) individuals (IRGists) and each IRG loosely sharing a particular common interest; IRGists exchange information, as a group, a sub group...


  1. Love this article and your ideas in them. Definitely don't agree with all of them... but am totally a fan of your use of the relevance paradox to try and frame new thinking.

    - John

  2. Self-Organizing Systems and Emergence. Chaos and Order. Influence and Control. Known-Knowns, Known-Unknowns, Unknown-Knowns and Unknown-Unknowns. Being situation aware where the past meets the future in the present while seeking and discovering the significance and relevance of the past and the future to the present. We are associative beings with the gift and curse of engaged and interacting senses and sensibilities that as a gift are realized as a "sense of": the common sense that comes from a sense of the ridiculous, sense of the absurd, sense of humor and a sense of life as Love, Reason and Creativity. As a curse it manifests an undisciplined and meaningless Rorschach Existence of living life in Plato's Cave with "carts before horses" ... "tails wagging dogs" ... pulling association triggers with every Pavlovian perception perceived.

    I've been aware of the significance and relevance of the Relevance Paradox for some time now, and see it as one of many paradoxes that need to be discussed in conversations that matter to move from our present situation to a better one.