Institutional Knowledge is a Liability

Every company has a set of explicit and implicit rules and practices on how things get done within the organization. It often takes weeks or months or even years on a job to acquire and accumulate this institutional knowledge. Often the more you know the more you can thrive and accomplish on the job. Thus, institutional knowledge has an exaggerated value placed on it.

I would argue that institutional knowledge becomes the death of innovation.

You bring skills, passion and change to a new job. You learn the system and gain in effectiveness as your tenure increases. For a period of time you hit a peak of productivity and innovation.

However, at a certain point on a job the crushing weight of your institutional knowledge cripples your ability to grow and change. You shift from “this is how we do it” to “this is how we’ve always done it.” At that moment you begin looking backward and not forward, effectively becoming an impediment to progress. Unless your job grows or changes dramatically it is almost impossible to avoid this yoke of stagnation.

How long is too long on a job? How do you prevent institutional knowledge from strangling innovation and progress? I would love to know your thoughts.

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