Tag Archives: apprentice

organizational knowledge capture, retention, and dissemination

Knowledge capture, retention, and dissemination has been an interest of mine for a long time. I have written about various aspects of it before.

The most vital commodity any organization has is the knowledge of its members – it does not matter if it is a historical society, company, church, or school: the organizational knowledge base is vital to ongoing health of the organization.

I love the picture of the “Tree of Wisdom“: at the ground there is a meadow of data, from this data information roots are gathered, the roots grow into knowledge branches, and at the end is the application of that knowledge in wisdom leaves.

Data is easy to come by.

Information similarly so.

Knowledge, taking information and transforming it into a more-usable form, is important.

When to apply that knowledge – aka using wisdom – is the topic for another post.

Capturing Knowledge

There are a host of available tools for capturing knowledge – text files, brown bags, PowerPoint, SharePoint, blogs, Plone, wikis, etc. The “best” one to use is the one you use.


Getting team members to contribute to organizational knowledge pools can be difficult – unless it is an organizational priority .. a part of the organization’s culture.

Incorporating this culture switch (if it’s not already innate to the organization) needs to be done not merely as a top-down directive, but encouraged via bottom-up interest.

Retaining (Managing) Knowledge

Now that you’ve captured (or started capturing) the organization’s data, managing it becomes the next task of import.

For example, should the KB article written 5 years ago be updated, replaced, or left alone?

Who is responsible for managing all of the information that has been collected? Will it be self-managed and -directed, will there be a curation team, will it be a combination?

Who determines the process for taking “internal” knowledge and “promoting” it to “outside” knowledge?

How are these roles going to be managed as the team changes memberships through people leaving, entering, and shifting in the organization?

For extremely small organizations, formal curation may be unnecessary. Perhaps since everyone knows everyone else, or the knowledge domain is so small, everyone’s individual contributions will remain fairly static and the “promotion” path will merely be proofreading (eg a historical society’s archives – the archives may be extensive, but the material doesn’t ‘change’ all that much (excepting being added-to, of course)).

For very big organizations (like the MSDN documentation available on microsoft.com), many layers of curation are likely going to be needed – proofreading, formatting, verifying, etc.

Finding the right balance of self-direction and organizational management can be tricky.

Disseminating Knowledge – Getting The Word Out

All of the captured knowledge in the world is useless if you can’t find it – and knowing where to look is vital. A close second to knowing where to look is how to find it.

Where is it?

There needs to be a solid document, landing page, directory, table of contents, etc so that new members (or folks who forget) can find the tribal knowledge that exists in the organization.

As a part of the new-hire\introduction\etc process\period, be sure to tell new members where information can be found, and who to talk to about certain major topics.

Finding it once you know where to look

“Search is a hard problem.” Google’s own Udi Manber said that. Anna Paterson at Stanford wrote, “Writing Your Own Search Engine Is Hard.”

Search in general may be hard, but many tools handle at least basic (and some fuzzy) searching well – OSQA, WordPress, Plone, Drupal, and many others. If, in addition to categorization, a tag taxonomy is employed, quickly finding content relevant to the searcher’s wants\needs can become easier.

“A tag is a keyword or label that categorizes your question with other, similar questions. Using the right tags makes it easier for others to find and answer your question.” {SO description}

Knowledge contributors should be the primary agents of tagging. However, consumers should be able to suggest additional tags. Administrators\curators should be able (under unusual, but well-defined, circumstances) to remove tags.

The human factor

For any given topic / knowledge region in the organization’s realm, there need to be established “experts” and “mentors” who will help guide new individuals through the fog to locate the buoys to be able to navigate themselves into a clearer understanding of the new world they have been made a part of.

Apprenticing upcoming experts into the organization is the single most vital aspect of the knowledge capture process – if it is not disseminated, it doesn’t matter if it is captured.

mastery by robert greene

In Mastery, Robert Greene continues in the style of his excellent work, The 48 Laws of Power (which I previously reviewed and have been posting excerpts from).

Sadly, it is not quite to the level of The 48 Laws – though it still a good book. Unbeknownst to me, I’ve already been practicing most of what he preaches, starting with finding your niche. Oh, and following an apprenticeship path. And staying creative; and widening your horizons.

This is also, more or less, the path modeled by one of my previous employers, the Shodor Education Foundation through their Apprentice, Intern, and “Post-Bac” Staff programs (they have higher than “Post-Bac” staff, too – but that’s more in the “Master” level than getting to it).

I was hoping for something … well, maybe not “new” – but insightful-and-not-common-elsewhere. Perhaps I’m merely well-read already, but Mr Greene comes to roughly the same conclusion as Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers – 10,000 hours of concerted effort in learning, practicing, and presenting a given topic/field will tend to push you into the “Master” realm (review).

Through a series of case studies and repeated biographical highlights through the last ~300 years, the point is shown that while there are a few workable paths to Mastery – they’re all traversable by anyone who cares to take the time and effort to do so.

Timothy Ferriss’ series of “4 Hour” books (4-Hour Body, 4-Hour Workweek, & 4-Hour Chef) all showcase these exact traits, as well. While presented as “shortcuts for the rest of us”, if read without skimming, instead show that it is only through intense focus and hard work that you can arrive at the “4-Hour” destination.

Is Mastery a worthwhile read? Probably for most people.

Is it worth owning? Doubtful.

Grab a copy from your library (like I did) and read it. Reread it. Blog about it. Tweet it. Skim it. Then return it.