Email is where knowledge goes to die

“Email is where knowledge goes to die.” *

Think about that for a sec. Think about the treasure trove of information that lies buried in your email inbox, or somewhere in the painfully complex taxonomy of email folders that you’ve created to hold each message in just the right place — your own private, generally poorly-functioning, Dewey Decimal system.

I 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 creates waste. You ask a question via email, a colleague answers, and both you and the company benefit. But when you save the information in a mail folder six layers deep in Outlook,

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.

Jeremy says that each time you answer a question over email, you should ask yourself what you could do to ensure that the answer to this question is available to everyone. Even if your organization doesn’t have an intranet, there are ways to make the answer available to a Google query. [For more technical ways to transform information into usable knowledge, read Bill French's post here. Much too advanced for me, but it might make some sense to you.]

To me, this is another way to view 5S for knowledge workers. It’s not about putting a tape outline around your stapler and mouse — probably you can find the damn things without the tape, and if you can’t, you probably won’t be holding your job down much longer. 5S is for information — for making it easy to find and easy to use for the rest of the organization.

When it comes to “set in order,” don’t worry so much about organizing your inbox and mail folders. Think about how you can make that information readily available for you — and for others — when you need it.

Don’t let knowledge go to die.

* Hat tip to Bill French for this unbelievably felicitous turn of phrase. I stand humbled before you.

3 thoughts on “Email is where knowledge goes to die

  1. Thanks for the hat tip, but it’s unnecessary, although the quote certainly says much in very few words about the debilitating affect email has on all of us.

    The quote was born out of pure coincidence. I was preparing for a presentation to the Australian Computing Society in 1999 and I was trying to envision where knowledge goes once we loose our grip on it. Email of course. The idea came to me while I was watching an episode of The King of Queens (i.e., Arthur’s room is where fun goes to die.) then it struck me – knowledge and email bounced off the TV and into my presentation.

  2. Your post inspired me to fully document the origin of this quote –

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