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Harvesting Hidden Wisdom: The Art of Knowledge Retention

1 September 2019
Michal Gil- Peretz
platform 9 3/4

In the enchanting world of Harry Potter, magic intertwines with memory and knowledge. Dumbledore, the wise headmaster of the School of Magic, demonstrates this connection when he extracts memories directly from his brain using a special spell. As he stands next to a cabinet filled with magical vials containing memories, we witness the fusion of magic and knowledge retention.

But what about our real-world quest for knowledge retention? Alas, we lack magic wands, yet the challenge remains. Tacit knowledge—those gems of wisdom residing within an employee’s mind—is often undocumented and built upon years of experience. When employees depart, this treasure trove risks being lost forever, leaving organizations bereft of valuable insights.

So, how do we extract this tacit knowledge? Here are some practical tips:

  1. Understand the Context: Before embarking on the knowledge extraction journey, delve into the employee’s background and reasons for leaving the organization. Recognize that their cooperation level may be influenced by these factors.

  2. Methodological Approach: Start by mapping the areas of expertise; make sure that even the so-called “unimportant” issues might actually be very important and significant to the organization.

  3. Topic Formulation: Create a list of topics the employee deals with. Focus on the most critical issues during the extraction process.

  4. Prioritize Wisely: Prioritize topics based on their importance to the organization, the existing level of documentation, and the uniqueness of the employee’s knowledge. Remember that the magic lies in balancing the three (high importance, low documentation, and unique insights).

  5. Meaningful Insights and Best Practices: Engage in deep conversations with the employee. Seek meaningful insights and best practices used by the employee over the years to benefit future generations within the organization. These discussions may span several meetings, ideally concentrated and lasting hours. Time is of the essence, especially considering the imminent departure date.

  6. Trust and Commitment: Building trust with the employee is essential. Their commitment to the process enhances its success. Knowing they leave behind a legacy fuels their sense of purpose.

  7. Structured Documentation: At the end of each knowledge retention session, process the collected wisdom. Organize it into an easily navigable document. A “rolling” format ensures ongoing updates and accessibility.

While our magic may lack wands, the art of knowledge retention remains a potent force—one that ensures organizational continuity and preserves the legacy of those who journey onward.


Knowledge Retention in ROM's Knowledge Management Glossary

Handling challenges in retiree knowledge retention, 2Know Magazine, July 2010

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