Caring for knowledge

Caring for knowledge
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Why is good knowledge care critical?

Every business, small or large, has a body of knowledge around its existence.

The business has one or more products or services it sells. It has processes for how to obtain, create, or use the products or services. It has sales documents and collateral. There are accounting charts and customer lists. How to manuals and vendors. Hire onboarding and competitive analyses. The knowledge goes on and on.

Far too often, knowledge is left to someone’s personal care. Sometimes that’s a personal drive or cloud space. Sometimes it is a notebook or sticky pad. In the worst cases, it is just left in someone’s head in some bold assumption that the individual’s brain will be available and accessible for an endless array of tomorrows. (This is obviously false.)

Sometimes a hard drive crashes. A critical notebook is carelessly filed away in the dreaded “File 13”. A key employee moves on to other pastures. There are so many ways that knowledge gets lost. Once lost, such hard-earned knowledge is just as hard to regain by someone else. And every so often, it is actually harder to regain.

To avoid this, undertake good knowledge care.

Steps for good knowledge care

There are four key steps any business really must undertake for good knowledge care.

  1. Gather
  2. Organize
  3. Disseminate
  4. Curate

Let’s delve into each of these further.


Gathering knowledge is just that. Know what you have, and know who has it.

But it is also more complicated than that. Because that information cannot live with one person. Letting information live with only one person means that the information is as at risk as that person is. If you haven’t noticed over the last few years, humans are fragile things.

So gathering knowledge really means capturing it from people’s heads and putting it into a format that can be shared with others.

  • Maybe that’s a website.
  • Or knowledgebase.
  • Or wiki.
  • Or help article.
  • Or Word doc.
  • Or a handwritten notebook.
  • Or a PowerPoint.
  • Or an Excel spreadsheet.

The format could be anything that is something other than a human brain.

But the best formats can be copied easily and shared quickly.

The key is to get knowledge and information out of a someone’s brain or personal space into some kind of community location where other people can find and access it.


Once you gather knowledge, then you must organize it.

Think about it. The Library of Congress has its own system of organizing content. But imagine if it didn’t. Imagine if all of the books the Library collects each year just got tossed into a random pile on a floor of a building somewhere.

Who could use such information and knowledge? No one. Because no one could find the information and knowledge they needed!

Organizing information is about creating systems and structures for storage and retrieval. This is information architecture. It applies to all of the information as a whole, creating navigable means where people can locate the knowledge they need, when they need it.

But organizing is also important within the knowledge artifact itself. Use templates to help people structure documents and other artifacts in similar ways. Humans like familiar paths. Familiarity helps us grasp something more easily and find our way to the kernels we need.

Organizing takes time, and it never really ends. But organization of docs is critical.


The third piece of knowledge care is dissemination.

Knowledge is only good when it is shared with the people who need it. Make sure that the people who need your knowledge can get to it.

Put knowledge in a location where people can access it. A company intranet, central library, or even cloud drive can all be great means. The mechanism does not matter. What is really important is that the people who need knowledge can get to it.

But there is another side of this coin. It is equally important that people who should not have the knowledge cannot get to it.

Not everyone in the office needs access to Billy’s disciplinary records or Sheryl’s last paycheck. Only a few people need to know how to make general ledger adjusting entries. And fewer people still need to know password to the company’s domain name server.

But all of this is knowledge that needs to be stored and shared for the inevitable time when the responsible party moves on. Because we all move on. Sometimes intentionally because an exciting, better job opportunity lands in our lap. Or we are ready for retirement. Sometimes unintentionally, for reasons I will leave to your own imagination. But there’s a proverbial “hit by a bus” for one reason.

Getting that knowledge captured is important. And just as important is getting that knowledge shared. But only to the right people.


The last key step in good knowledge care is curation.

Knowledge is in some ways like a museum: there are always new, exciting knowledge artifacts to add to the collection. Decide what that knowledge is and add it when it becomes available to you.

But knowledge is also like a house: dirty dishes and laundry pile up and dust bunnies multiply. Like a house, knowledge needs cleaning.

  • Update what is stale and out of date.
  • Delete what is old and no longer needed.
  • Confirm what is still valid.

Knowledge must be trustworthy. Old, stale, crusty, and bad knowledge leads to distrust across the org. And once distrust takes over, people start relying on their heads and the heads of others to keep information again.

Then a bus hits.

Take good care of your knowledge, and it will take good care of you.

If you take these steps to have good knowledge care, then your knowledge will pay back in dividends.

  • New employees benefit from easily found knowledge of how to do their jobs.
  • New customer benefits by getting the right information about how you solve their problems.
  • Investors benefit because knowledge does not get lost and money wasted by having to discover it again another time.

Knowledge care and maintenance should be the priority of any business or organization. Make sure it is a priority of yours.