Retained Knowledge

OK, we confess. We had to make this term up because we could not find one to fit the concept we want to talk about. In Knowledge Management, ‘retained knowledge’ often refers to the knowledge retained within an organisation against a background of staff turnover. Here, however, we intend to distinguish the personal knowledge that we have immediately available to us through our memory from the knowledge we have collected by other means (in Evernote, for example) which we will refer to as ‘latent knowledge’. Even though that means something else as well, but hopefully the resulting controversy will result in lots of PR exposure for our app.

In a professional context, retained knowledge is the stuff that singles you out as an expert, as knowledgeable in your field, as someone who knows what they are talking about. It’s what inspires the confidence of your colleagues and it’s what gets you the job in an interview situation. In social situations, retained knowledge can help you contribute a joke or a story to keep the party going, to create rapport and to hit it off with people. Its the difference between having the script, and knowing your lines. OMG, that is a GOOD metaphor!

In Phaedrus, Socrates (stay with us!) recounts the tale of Theuth, an Egyptian divinity, who went to King Thamus and urged him to disseminate the arts of mathematics, geometry, astronomy etc… amongst his people. Theuth tells Thamus that writing will make his people “wiser and will improve their memory”. Thamus suggests that it will in fact do the opposite:

…it will introduce forgetfulness into the soul of those who learn it: they will not practice using their memory because they will put their trust in writing, which is external and depends on signs that belong to others, instead of trying to remember from the inside, completely on their own. You have not discovered a potion for remembering, but for reminding; you provide your students with the appearance of wisdom, not with its reality. (Plato, 355)

… you see, totally relevant and over 2000 years old!

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  • Plato. c.399-347 BCE. “Phaedrus.” in Complete Works, edited by J. M. Cooper. Indianapolis IN: Hackett.