Monday, 2 February 2015

Learn - Remember - Recall. KM is as simple as this.

The way that individuals remember is a small-scale analogue for Organisational Knowledge Management. 


  1. We acquire knowledge through experience or through learning
  2. We store that knowledge in our memory - either short-term or long-term (where it can also be combined with other knowledge as part of our experience base)
  3. We retrieve the knowledge when we need it, through the act of recall (often by association).
This process works well for individuals, and allows us to build up our knowledge over our lifetimes. 

Note the two types of memory. Short term memory is rich but limited, and fades if we try to remember too many things (more than 7 seems to be the limit), and if we do not make an effort to commit the knowledge to long term memory (through rehearsal and repetition) within a minute or less.

In organisational Knowledge Management, we see the same processes and systems in operation.

The organisational short term memory is the tacit knowledge held by the communities of practice. When practitioners are active and knowledge is current, leaving important knowledge undocumented is a low risk option, as it can easily be retrieved by asking the community. Through community discussion, new knowledge is acquired and spread, and updated through combination with other sources of knowledge. Retrieval is done through questioning; either face to face or online.

However unless the knowledge is captured into the organisational long term memory, it will be lost. Communities of practice forget over time, and non-current knowledge (knowledge which is not in everyday use) will fade from the collective memory.  Much as the brain's short-term memory is an active system involving rehearsal, so the organisation's tacit knowledge is an active system involving practice.

The long term memory for the organisation is the documented knowledge, as well as the knowledge encoded into practices, procedures and operations. This knowledge needs to be consciously acquired through capture and documentation, using processes such as interviewing, Learning histories or Retrospects. It needs to be validated, and over time it can be synthesised with new knowledge which will often modify or even overwrite the old knowledge. The store for the organisational knowledge is the knowledge bases, owned by the practice owners. This knowledge can even, in some cases, remain while a whole generation of workers come and go.

Retrieval of the documented knowledge is not easy, just as recalling knowledge from our deep memory is sometimes not easy. We tend to recall facts through association, and maybe we need to do the same with our knowledge bases. A heavily-hyperlinked wiki, for example, may help us make connections more easily than a linear filing structure.

Organisations learn like people learn, through short term and long term organisational memory; through Connection and Collection. Contact us for further details on how to help this happen.

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