Computerworld: Reading Is Key to IT Innovation
4/4/05 Column by Adam Kolawa. Pointed out by Jack Vinson
A dangerous trend threatens our nation's ability to remain globally competitive in science and technology. Scientists and researchers in a wide variety of disciplines are conducting experiments and carrying out studies without grounding themselves in the latest work of their colleagues...The results of this trend are not surprising. Their work is less thorough, and they repeat work that could be avoided if they kept abreast of the latest findings in their field... It is important to stay grounded in the literature of the industry. Otherwise you end up reinventing processes and techniques that are already available to you. If you are not aware of your intellectual surroundings, then you are doomed to duplicate work, repeat research, and waste time and resources.
The author goes on to say that this problem is exacerbated by the movement of journal subscriptions from print to online. Jack thinks this might be ameliorated by RSS feeds.
I agree that this is a widespread problem, but I don't agree that it's a technology issue. I think engineers and scientists get bogged down in solving a particular problem and lose sight of long term goals like staying abreast of new developments. Professional society involvement is key to combatting this. More so, I would argue, than RSS feeds (ahh, don't hit me Jenny and Steven!). Going to meetings and conferences and other f2f opportunities gets you out of your routine, causes you to prairie dog from your work... and you might just get the insight that helps you solve the problem. You're around dynamic people with similar training who are all solving problems like yours in their daily lives.
Also, managers should enforce mandatory catch up, read-the-journal time for their professional staff. Professionals should do this on their own, but nudging is good, too. I believe in formal training, too, but I think just reading a few research articles a week would help, a lot.
In the end, it's a management issue, not a technology issue.