Institutional Knowledge via Public Artifacts

Publicly posting artifacts on a constant, consistent schedule keeps me motivated.  These days, it’s enormously easy to relapse and go off the deep end of unproductivity.  Here’s a trick that I’ve found which works for me:  Write an email to your future-self describing whatever bug fix or feature you’ve implemented.  Write the way you’d normal write an email to a BA or business liaison.  Then go and actually implement the feature.  Record everything in GitHub.  I can’t lie, I enjoy looking at the Progress Map and seeing one big block of progress.

Because there’s a public artifact of my work, I can then easily review my WordPress or GitHub and simply, at a glance, see how I’ve been spending my time and everything I’ve been doing.  If you’ve having trouble staying motivated, maybe give this a whirl.  It may do wonders!

If you’ve ever worked at a company, especially a large one, then you’re familiar with the concept of institutional knowledge.  I know ever since Citizens United, it’s really unfashionable to view companies as human entities.  But in many ways, if you really think about it, companies are human-like in many ways.  Any individual cell is extraneous to a human, but in aggregate, they constitute the human body.  Likewise, any individual human is insignificant to a company, but together, they are the company.  Institutional knowledge is the idea of documenting one’s work and knowledge in such a way that after the employee leaves the firm, the company will still have semblance of whatever the employee knew/did while s/he was here.  In addition to oral transmission (the employee teaching other employees via “knowledge transfer”), we were also expected to document as thoroughly as we could our work so we’d be, in a sense, fungible.  Should the company ever need to replace us (for the “greater good,” of course), it was important such replacement happened as seamlessly as possible.

Now, of course, as these things always are, in practice, institutional knowledge –at least where I’d worked– was near complete shit.  Some employees were understandably reluctant to part with their knowledge because –surprise, surprise– they didn’t want to be fungible, interchangeable assets.  Gee, who could’ve guessed?

Anyway, I’ll save the diatribe for another time.  The point I wanted to make today, in this entry, is that as I’ve grown older, it’s become useful for me to apply the concept of “institutional knowledge” to myself, as a person.  In other words:  Treat myself, a human, more like a company.  Through the course of any given day, week, or month, I’m entertaining hundreds of various, disparate thoughts, on a variety of subjects.  On any given topic, I may have spent tens or hundreds of hours contemplating.  Gay marriage/abortion/gun rights?  Toast or croissants?  Is this Basketball Dome undertaking really a good idea?  And I’m certain I’m not alone.  Every day, people are probably thinking hundreds of random thoughts about a dozen or so different topics.  The real tragedy here is for the vast majority of us, these are all ephemeral.  Sure, our stronger convictions we’ve probably thought to ourselves thousands of times so they’ve turned into core beliefs.  But everything else is just sadly lost in the ether.

Thus, what I’ve enjoyed doing is maintaining a personal blog to keep track of everything.  Even if another human soul never sees it, I sincerely believe the record-keeping is valuable.  You can chart your growth over time and see how your positions have changed as you gain life experience.  You can literally write about anything; it’s your blog.  Movie and book reviews, thoughts about current affairs, etc.  As you begin to amass a corpus, what’s also fun is periodically reviewing the material and extracting the trends in how your musical tastes and concerns of the day have shifted over the years.  Like, “Oh– this was the period I was super into punk rock.”  Or, “Oh– I really got sucked into election politics and American Civil War history for six months here.” Juicy self-insights everywhere!

Writing and reading are truly the gifts that keep on giving.  Record those artifacts and build a time capsule for your future self!  Sure beats watching random YouTube clips all day.