New Releases and Niche Genres – Or Why Knowledge Capture Fails

By Tamara Wilhite

Why does knowledge capture so often fail? Why does knowledge management so often result in archiving instead of sharing beyond the initial presentation on your lessons learned?

One way to look at it is to view the information you’ve recorded as books in a book store – and the perusing habits of the customers, though you want to share the knowledge with.

• New Releases Versus Dusty Old Tomes

There is a tendency in book stores to put new releases up front, and the back sections are filled with classics and required reading that few bothered to browse. This caters to the modern assumption that newer is better. We see similar mistakes when search results are biased toward the newest content, regardless of quality or relevance.
Knowledge capture so often fails because the knowledge seeker is only searching the front of the book store and first page of the search results. Meanwhile, the reports that people wrote five or fifteen or even fifty years ago may have a solution to the matter at hand.

• Error in Translation

There are times where the solution is well known to the group that lives and breathes the technology, but the solution doesn’t make it outside of that circle except for random interactions that lead to education. One example of this is the story of an Icelandic engineer overhearing a geothermal engineering discussion and said they’d been writing articles on this for decades in Iceland; why didn’t anyone in the field in the discussion know this? Icelandic technical articles aren’t going to come up very often as the answer to an English search query. I wonder how much expertise is unknown because it isn’t available in searchable English, especially the low tech, low cost solutions that are now coming into vogue because the bottom billions can’t afford the thousand dollar solution.
Likewise, the evolution of personnel to HR terminology and the other endless appropriation of new terms for long standing concepts can render older documents seemingly obsolete because it doesn’t use current buzzwords.

• But It’s a Niche Title

One of the ironies of “lean six sigma in health care” and other efforts to make broad process improvement methodologies relevant to an under-served area is that someone may come across it and say, “I can’t use that, it’s in that niche, it isn’t relevant to me.” Therefore, the targeted presentation is ignored by the broader audience, because they think it doesn’t apply to them.
Personally, I’ve worked on or led over a dozen green belt six sigma projects. I had one occasion where someone implied that experience in manufacturing wouldn’t apply to IT. The fact that manufacturing control software and engineering PDM software aren’t that different didn’t register with the person – the division between manufacturing and IT made it seem that a solution for one niche wouldn’t be applicable to the one we were in then.
We can lose out on knowledge transfer when artificial categorizations cause us to ignore solutions that would work in our case because it is considered to be a tool for “over there”.