Beware the Dark Room
Don’t Get Locked into Looking for Answers in Isolation
Imagine that you want to create the best place to keep information on a particular subject. You collect all of the literature, all of the experts, and all of the teachers on this subject and put them in a locked room. At that moment, this room (the Dark Room) is the best place to go for information on the subject of interest.
Over time, however, the subject matures outside the room, and the experts in the room can only learn of these changes from the imperfect understanding of others outside the room who relate the information in some imperfect way through the locked door. Furthermore, anyone wishing information about this subject must work through the inconvenience of the locked door (and possibly intermediaries who pass notes under the door) to learn about the subject. Over time, expertise develops outside the room, and in contrast, the experts inside the room become less expert because of their imperfect information and the latency built into their learning. If the subject matter is dynamic, the room eventually becomes the worst place to go for information on the subject at hand.
Dark Rooms can be created in many ways. Sometimes, information silos are created out of necessity, like for security reasons, privacy concerns, protection of intellectual property, or other perfectly reasonable considerations. Nevertheless, these Dark Rooms will have the manifestations of the isolation described above. One solution is to open a window – in effect, to allow some information to pass between the experts in the room and the outside world with careful controls in place. Another strategy is to thoughtfully allow some of the experts in the room to leave the room, in part to enhance their expertise and in part to satisfy legitimate needs outside the room (for example, when medical researchers working for private companies attend conferences to learn from other experts and present some version of their own findings). Of course, in all scenarios, there is a risk. It is important to realize that there is a risk no matter which strategy is undertaken, including keeping the door locked with the “experts” inside.