Tribal Knowledge as a key asset

For those that haven’t heard the term “Tribal Knowledge“, it is usually associated with Six Sigma training (don’t get me started on why that has little value in the modern world).  Basically, it means “knowledge ‘known’ yet undocumented”.  

The best companies in the history of the world have relied on these nuggets of differentiation for many years.  We’ve all had situations where we start at a new job and we’re told “Let me show you how WE do it”, despite our ability to perform said task with no problem (the way we did it at our last job).  When I used to be an employee I tended to trust (but verify) that my employer knew better how to accomplish their tasks than I did.  I think that’s a key point.  It’s THEIR task, not mine.  I might perform it, but I do it on their behalf, at their behest (and if I add another “be-” word here, I should be beheaded).  

These little pieces of tribal knowledge can make a tremendous amount of difference within a company, team or department.  It is one of the reasons why smart companies prefer to hire EXPERIENCED people instead of strictly really smart (but green) candidates.  There are sometimes very good and extremely important reasons to leave some best practices undocumented.  Reminds me of this quote: 

“Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink”

You can imagine how some of this could bite you pretty hard, however.  Nowadays, companies need to protect their liability as much as innovate and sell product.  If a company has (and most do) some “unsavory” practices that need explaining, you may want to think through that a little bit before allowing it to creep into your company culture.

Our key asset at BAYWORX is, quite frankly, the undocumented way we approach projects.  Dare I say, it’s our tribal knowledge.

About the Author: