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Email Is Where Knowledge Goes To Die

I love that title, I wish I could take credit for it (credit here).  But I do have proof to back it up.

Anyone in a business environment can relate to this.  Email has really become a necessary evil, tied us to Outlook and our smartphones.  “Email is where knowledge goes to die”.  Think about it.  Think about how many emails you get during a day at work.  Someone sends you an email asking for help, and you respond with the answer to the question (never mind the fact that the person knew enough to send you the email – that is another story).  The answer is received, and both the asker and the answerer move on.  The asker is a little bit smarter because they asked the question and got an answer, and good for them for asking and saving themselves some time.

This happened over email, the answerer probably deleted the email, and the asker may decide that it is a good thing to keep.  So they file it in a folder in their mailbox, and never look at it again.  This transaction on both parts probably only took 5 minutes of time, not a big deal, but how many times does this happen?  Worse off, I bet sometimes you find yourself asking the same question to someone else, because you can’t quite remember the answer, or have a slightly different permutation of the problem you are trying to solve.

The transaction, the knowledge gained, has died in your email, for you to forget and for no one else to see.  And what about the next time someone asks the same question?  In fact every time someone asks the same question over and over again, we are wasting time.  And we all know that time = money.

I am going to get technical for a second – I was onsite with a customer making some changes to their production system, and I was trying to figure out how to get a “program running” status from a robot, and pass it to a usable input on my controller.  I posted this question on, a site I have recently started for the controls and automation community.  Since this site is just starting out, I also emailed a couple people that I knew would know the answer, and included a link to the question.    And I knew who could help me because I have been in this business for a long time – how many times do you know exactly who to ask to get an answer?

The next morning I had two answers to my question, and was able to map the status from the robot to the controller.  Yes email would have worked just fine, but now this question and answer is alive and well in the cloud, and one day if you ask Google about monitoring the program running status of a Fanuc robot, you might just get that answer.  By the way, at the time I asked Google the same question and did not get anything close to the answer.  If you ask now, Google will give you the right answer!

Part of the premise of using social collaboration tools at work is to be able to quickly identify who the experts are, and get answers to your questions.  Q&A is a great source of knowledge sharing between 2 people, so why not capture this transaction for the next person?

So the next time you answer a question over email, ask yourself – What could I do to ensure that the answer to this question is available to everyone?

Posted in 2.0 Lessons, Business.

7 Responses

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  1. Stephen Bounds says

    I don’t disagree with the premise, but one of the reasons your scenario worked was having access to the super-large community of the net, the genius of google search, and the general applicability of your answer to others.

    Inside the firewall, answers are often so specific as to only be useful within a project context.

    The idea of shared and persistent team communication is useful but it has its limits…

  2. Steve Livingston says

    A really insightful post. Knowledge workers are constantly answering (often the same) questions by email every day. As you say, responses get filed either in online folders (never to be read again) or in paper form (only to be destroyed 6 or so years later).

    If we could mine this knowledge online for access for all, it opens amazing possibilities. As Laurie says, it will take a great mindshift but I sense we are getting closer to this transition – perhaps when the walls of corporations start creaking and a more i’ndividual-to-individual networked world’ emerges we will see more of this…?

  3. Laurie Buczek says

    Great post Jeremy! I completely agree. It is a mind shift that is going to take time and major TCM efforts to accomplish.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. KMOL » Blog Archive » O email é o cemitério do conhecimento linked to this post on January 27, 2010

    [...] “Transforming Information into Knowledge at the Portal”, serve agora de título para um post de Jeremy Sluyters no seu blog Jeremy on [...]

  2. E L S U A ~ A KM Blog Thinking Outside The Inbox by Luis Suarez » A World Without Email – Year 2, Weeks 49 to 51 (EMail Is Where Knowledge Goes to Die) linked to this post on February 2, 2010

    [...] have a look into the wonderful blog post that Jeremy Sluyters put together under the title "EMail Is Where Knowledge Goes to Die", where he references that quote I have been using myself for all along from Bill French that [...]

  3. Email is where knowledge goes to die « TimeBack Management linked to this post on March 15, 2010

    [...] started thinking about this issue after reading one of Jeremy Sluyter’s recent blog posts. He points out that the inability to access the information locked away in individual email boxes [...]

  4. Why am I using Yammer again? « living for the weekend linked to this post on October 8, 2010

    [...] no real way to expose that knowledge. In a Gartner conference, a presenter succinctly said “email is where knowledge goes to die“. Someone else called email a “knowledge coffin“. This pretty much sums it up. [...]

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