Where do you keep your gold?

Treasure chestWhere do you keep your gold? Do you keep it hidden in a chest in the basement? Or is it in the safe deposit box at your bank? Or maybe it's all at Fort Knox, where it is guarded behind thick walls and impenetrable security.

If you are a knowledge worker, you have a very different kind of gold. You know things. You have experience and expertise. You know people who also know things and have expertise and experience. This is your gold.

But what do you do with knowledge gold? It has no value if it is never used. Unlike material properties, knowledge doesn't exactly fade with use - it grows and spreads and changes. So, where do you "keep" it?

This is somewhat of a loaded question. A lot of that gold is part of who you are, and your ability to draw on it is why people hire you - why they come to you with the questions that you are likely to be able to handle. In some senses, there is nowhere to "keep" that knowledge. Then again, there are tools and supporting structures that help you recall and more effectively do what you do. That's where I am going with this line of thinking. What tools and structures support you and your organization in maintaining, growing, using ... taking action based on that knowledge?

"My email archive is gold!" is one way to describe this outboard brain. This came from a conversation I had the other day - from a person who has many options on storing and managing the outward signs of work: documents and files and the like. But for him, it was email that served best as a supporting tool. A big reason that email works for so many people is that it is personal, and people can organize and arrange it in whatever way makes the most sense for them. But why don't the groupware systems work? It's because the "official" systems are part of a formalized process that only fits some of the work people do on a regular basis.

What's the answer? I don't have a final solution, but the components have to bridge the personal and the group needs. The ideas of an activity stream that I control is intriguing to me. (An activity stream is a trail of activities on many different electronic systems that flow into one stream - usually via some kind of RSS or other syndication mechanism.) This would give me one place to go for those "do you remember" questions. And done well, it could also give my colleagues a starting point when I am not around - activity streams are meant to be available to the group.

Another component of an answer has to be the policies and practices of the group. This means not only teaching individuals how to use the tools and be clever about their own materials, but also creating agreement with one another about things like keeping notes on projects and other activities (especially the ones that get cancelled or are "unofficial" - these often fall through the cracks in terms of documentation, but they represent a lot of useful information about things we've tried). Some groups do weekly or monthly updates on what has happened and what is planned - this could even be considered a form of activity stream.

If you are a knowledge worker, don't hide your gold. Share it with others and it will grow and change in ways that you might not expect.

[Photo: "Treasure Chest" by Thomas Guignard]

2 Comment(s)

Brett Author Profile Page said:

Jack,

I've been giving some thought lately to activity streams, including using the Life Stream plugin for Wordpress, FriendFeed, and Twitter (via automatic updates from all my other content sources) for my public/personal content.

Behind the firewall is whole other matter; still haven't found a way to share e-mail gold.

James said:

I really like this article and the analogy of "Knowlege Gold." Your "Knowledge Nuggets" are always a nice read.

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