Half-life of Knowledge and Knowledge Decays 📝
Today, I want to talk to you about the half-life of knowledge and how that impacts remote working in a very key manner.
Over these last few weeks, we were caught up with all that's happening around, and my mails to you spoke about the very same topic. I realised way too much content on the net is floating around the same and you probably have had enough of it. So, I am going to talk only about core remote working concepts from now.
On that note, I have also been thinking that I bombard you with new topics each week hoping you like reading them and find something useful. But why don't I just ask you, what you like to read or discuss? You can also just reply with a broad area you would like me to cover each week e.g. news on remote companies or how companies went remote.
OK, let's get to this week's discussion.
You would have probably heard a lot of people say that we are living in the 'Information Age'. Data is everywhere and is key to succeed, be it for individuals or organisations. At the same time though, information or knowledge rapidly becomes outdated, irrelevant or disproven.
This is a very pertinent problem organisations face since there are many factors that accelerate the decay of knowledge - employees leaving, improper documentation, 1-on-1 knowledge sharing, among others. For remote teams, knowledge decay is more concerning since there are added constraints of timezone issues, lack of shoulder taps, in-person knowledge transfers etc.
So it is important that we are aware of this knowledge decay, the contributing factors and how we can possibly prevent or extend the decay.
Half-life of knowledge
In nuclear physics, the half-life of a radioactive substance refers to the amount of time taken for it to reduce (decay) to half. Similarly, half-life of knowledge, information or facts refers to the amount of time needed for half of the knowledge to become irrelevant or outdated.
Let me take a few examples to explain this. A company's press release or an investor update will typically have a half-life of a couple of weeks. On the other hand, your company's wiki or your SOPs will have a half-life of ~0.5-1 years.
Types of knowledge
This article categorises knowledge into 3 discrete forms:
- Unconscious Knowledge - Knowledge that employees actively use but may not be consciously aware of (e.g. a particular way of using a tool or a specific workflow)
- Conscious Knowledge - Methods, processes, SOPs etc. that employees know
- Recorded Knowledge - Everything that's captured in an accessible and tangible form
You would have already guessed that recorded knowledge will have the highest half-life while unconscious knowledge will have the lowest.
Efficient knowledge transfer and increasing the half-life of knowledge
Our aim, therefore, should be to facilitate the flow or transfer of knowledge, primarily from unconscious to recorded. In effect, this will increase the half-life of knowledge and ensure that your company's information stays relevant and updated for long.
Here are just a few things you can implement right away to do so:
- Default to asynchronous
Instant messages or chats typically have a shorter half-life, ~5-10 mins whereas long-form messages have half-lives of at least a few hours. Also, when you default to asynchronous long-form conversations, you in turn encourage more thoughtful responses and reduce back & forth.
- Share knowledge across teams
This is the very first step towards expanding your company's recorded knowledge. Individual teams often have a lot of data and insights with them, which if shared across the company, can help build a solid knowledge base.
- Start building a learning organisation
Going a step further, you should aim towards building a culture of learning in your organisation. This HBR article beautifully explains what a learning organisation is and how it facilitates continuous learning of your employees.
- Use a collaborative work management tool
Instant messaging tools like Slack are great and an essential part of your stack. However, you should also invest in collaborative work management tools like Notion or Slite to store, maintain, prioritise and share knowledge.
Remote Working Chronicles - A self-taught programmer and travel-holic who adores the flexibility of remote work
Joe Barbour is a self-taught programmer and is now the CTO of Knoma.io, a fintech startup based in London. His journey is full of twists and turns which starts with his fascination for computers at a very early age to publish a popular iOS app (10K downloads before it was taken down). Instead of pursuing a formal education in computer science, he went to study film in London and also dropped off early on.
Shortly after, Joe decided to pursue his passion of travelling and joined a remote travel group for a 6-month tour. This was the inflection point in his career, post which he has travelled 30 countries till date. Joe's journey is compelling, doesn't shy away from mistakes and teaches us important lessons in remote working. Intrigued to know the details? Read the full story here.
As always, here are our top-picks of remote-first products:
✔️ Lumeer helps you plan, organise & track clients, tasks, projects etc.
✔️ Milanote is a tool for organising creative projects
✔️ Tangish is a communication tool with infinite level task structure
✔️ Clapboard is a Chrome extension for screen & camera recording
✔️ CodeTogether is a tool for pair programming