Capturing your organisation’s “institutional memory” for future use


Interviewed in the 1960s, Bertrand Russell was asked what he would wish to say to a future generation about the life he had lived, and the lessons he had learned. He responded with an intellectual lesson and a moral lesson.

“The intellectual thing is: when you are studying any matter or considering any philosophy, ask yourself only, ‘what are the facts, and what is the truth that the facts bear out?’ Never let yourself be diverted, neither by what you wish to believe, nor what you think would have beneficent social effects were it to be believed. But look only and solely at, ‘what are the facts?’”

“The moral thing is very simple. Love is wise. Hatred is foolish. In this world, which is getting more and more closely interconnected, we have to learn to tolerate each other. We have to learn to put up with the fact that some people say things we don’t like ... And if we are to live together and not die together, we must learn a kind of charity and a kind of tolerance which is absolutely vital to the continuance of human life on this planet”.

More prosaically, in modern organisations how often do we effectively capture, for future use, the lessons our employees have learned from their work and projects? The once-fashionable appointment of “Company Information Officers” seems in decline. And perhaps rightly so: our consulting experience suggests that an organisation’s “Corporate memory” is better held within each function or discipline, rather than in some central amorphous database.

But wherever and however it is held – and we have seen a variety of approaches – organisations need to capture their lessons learned. Otherwise mistakes are repeated and wheels are reinvented. As former US President Harry Truman put it, the only new thing in the world is the history you don’t know.


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“There is only one thing worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about”
(Oscar Wilde)

McNulty Management Consultants

Daily Management Nugget

Research and facts which all managers should know

Today’s Nugget:

Capturing your organisation’s “institutional memory” for future use (click above)

Tomorrow’s Nugget:

Why you must keep practising your current skills while developing new ones