Organizational knowledge #1

What defines a company? Not money, not people, offices, product nor cooperation.

I argue that it is organizational knowledge. By that I define as unique learnings collectively made as a team. These knowledge include mistakes, culture, strategies, tactics, technologies that are not available outside the organization.

For a company/organization to endure, it has no choice but to develop a way for preserving knowledge that can survive transition of people, time and space.

People who don't learn from history's mistakes are doomed to repeat it. We take it for granted that something learned will be passed down. But it's not true, intellectual dark matter exist.

Given that a organization's history is unique and can't be learned anywhere else, it's no one else but their own responsibility to preserve these history.

In this series I attempt to answer these questions. How to capture organizational knowledge? Why would people bother to read them? How do most companies do knowledge management? Why most attempts are destined to fail?

What is org-knowledge

Let's briefly define what we mean by organizational knowledge.

Hard knowledge is straightforward. How do this, where to do that, what has happened, SOPs, etc. Straight up facts.

The soft knowledge however are trickier. Why a decision was made, design rationale, policy choices, approaches picked, approaches abandoned, secret sauces, sales strategies, proprietary sales techniques, etc.

All these are results of team effort applicable only to the org's domain. If they can be derived from outside the org, they do not belong in this category.

How do most companies manage knowledge

Let's get the low-tech one out of the way: all-hand town hall meetings/conferences where a few people address many. Done like a school assembly, this is high bandwidth real-time communication, extremely costly, time-consuming, infrequent. Only the most important messages get their time of the day here. Strictly speaking this should not even be discussed but it gives us the benchmark of what we consider knowledge management technologies.

Now on to something only Fortune 500 companies can do: internal journalism. In a large enough org, they can afford story tellers in the form of bloggers, journalists, documentarians who talk to different parts of the company and paint a coherent picture of what's going on. Journalism done well can not only inform but build culture.

Now we can get realistic: wikis. There are countless places where hard knowledges can be written down and made accessible to anyone. Sharepoint, Google Docs, wiki (everywhere), blogs and many more.

Overtime orgs came to adopt chat-rooms in the form of email threads, WhatsApp groups (and equivalents), Slack (and equivalent), IRC, etc. They model a river of information that is constantly flowing; storage is an accidental feature.


In the next post, we explore why they all fail eventually.