Monday, 25 July 2016

Making best use of the human brain in Knowledge Management

I have long argued that the human brain is a poor long term store for Knowledge. Here are the three cases where it's the best store there is.

Image from wikimedia commons
The poor human brain gets a bit of a bad press at times. The cognitive biases that plague us all are becoming well known and popularised in many books, and we recognise the cognitive illusions that get in the way of effective use of knowledge, such as

With such illusions as these, can we trust the memories in our heads?

However a recent post on the Farham Street blog, based on this book by Daniel Schacter makes the point that the human brain works marvellously well in getting us through life, by selecting automatically what we remember and what we don't.

It makes the point that

"Our brain has limitations, and with those limitations come trade-offs. One of the trade-offs our brain makes is to prioritize which information [knowledge] to hold on to, and which to let go of. It must do this — as stated above, we’d be overloaded with information without this ability. The brain has evolved to prioritize information which is: 
  • Used frequently 
  • Used recently 
  • Likely to be needed"

The converse of this is that knowledge which is used infrequently, was used some time ago, and which we did not realise was likely to be needed, gets forgotten.

This is exactly the knowledge which needs to be documented, lest we forget.

The current knowledge is best left in human brains, connected into Communities of Practice, where the knowledge can be shared, improved, discussed and kept fresh.  The occasional knowledge should not be left in the human memory without augmenting this somehow through collecting, recording and structuring it in Knowledge Assets, so that it is given a shelf-life which the human brain cannot give.

Our responsibility as knowledge managers is to work out which knowledge to deal with through connection, and which through collection.

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