Monday, May 28, 2012

Most Company Knowledge Eventually Dissipates

Recently I have had to begin archiving and clearing all of the documents off my laptop. Digging into some rarely-visited folders I keep coming across long forgotten relics. Things like a six-page studio strategy document I wrote in 2002 that is of no relevance any more. This document looks like something that I put a lot of thought and effort into writing at the time. But it is now totally inapplicable, given how our company environment and organizational structure have evolved since.

Like all service-based professionals I have comprehensive systems, structures and methodologies for logging and archiving all of the paid work I complete on behalf of my clients. It is all of the other tactical internally-focussed work I need to do that ends up being buried into an obscure folder once its been actioned or once its usefulness has been exhausted.

None of the companies I have worked for ever had any kind of effective central archive for incidental company documents. (Admittedly all three were small companies, I know that many larger enterprises do have more formalised knowledge capture mechanisms.) We are always generating internal memos, presentations, company-based proposals, plans and schemes. By necessity I am guessing that 80–90% of this material gets filed in an individualistic ad-hoc manner and ultimately thrown away.

Now most of this material might be of no interest to anyone outside of the companies involved. But these documents do reveal the secret history of businesses. The debates people had about key strategic decisions; the pros and cons of a refocussed company direction; internal critiques and suggestions for innovations. The ongoing conversations that inform the direction and activities of an organisation.

Who knows what threads some future Corporate Historian (or History-Bot) might possibly draw from the aggregate internal document trove of small companies. In one sense it is a shame that even in this digital age so much company knowledge just dissipates into the wind.