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Lost Knowledge: Confronting the Threat of an Aging Workforce 1st Edition

11 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195170979
ISBN-10: 0195170970
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Editorial Reviews


"Raises the intriguing question: Are companies ready to deal with the loss of intellectual capital that comes from workers' retirement?"--The New York Times

"Whether it's a veteran marketing manager at General Mills or an international tax accountant at Dupont, specialized knowledge in the heads of departing employees can cost companies millions to replace -- if it can be done at all. For the serious student of "knowledge retention," DeLong's book is an excellent primer. "--Minneapolis Star Tribune

"David DeLong offers advice and perspective that managers in different settings can use to prepare for expected turnover and attrition of mid-career employees."--HBS Working Knowledge

'Lost Knowledge is readable and is written in a reflective style with a scholarly tone[I]t will help leaders to begin to address the process of developing knowledge retention strategies."--People Management

"...when an employee walks out the door, they are taking with them new types of knowledge that didn't exist a generation agoDeLong's book offers some detailed blueprints for addressing the problem-from making sure your electronic files are not lost on a hard drive to creating programs to keep the retirees connected to the organizationIt's a fascinating read."--The Concord Journal

"An important timely book..."--Library Journal

About the Author

David W. DeLong is a research fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's AgeLab and an adjunct professor at Babson College where he teaches a course on "Leading Change." He has consulted and lectured in many countries and is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in leading journals and magazines.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (September 9, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195170970
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195170979
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 0.8 x 6.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #937,725 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 28, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Around the developed countries of the world, knowledge workers will be retiring at a fast clip in the next five to ten years. In some companies and organizations that have done poor succession planning or have been wracked by layoffs, this impact will come sooner. Professor DeLong has done a number of helpful case studies to document the harm that these retirements can cause, and describes the questions that organizations must ask themselves if they are to avoid dangerous and expensive knowledge gaps.

The bulk of the book is a detailed look at the effectiveness of knowledge management techniques in a variety of companies rather than a focus on the retirement problem. I was most impressed with the parts of the book that began with chapter 10 and continued to the end. If you have experience with the subject of knowledge management, you can skip the parts of the book that precede chapter 10. If you are new to the subject, you will find those parts helpful . . . but slowly developed. Stick with it. The material after chapter 9 is worth the wait.

The central reality of knowledge management is that few executives are very interested in it, many retiring workers don't really want to share what they know and many new workers don't feel like they have much to learn from older workers. I was delighted to see that Professor DeLong was familiar with those problems and makes a number of helpful suggestions for overcoming those psychological stalls to maintaining and improving knowledge.

Lest you think that the subject really isn't very important, you will be chilled to learn that there's a substantial risk of organizations forgetting how to disarm nuclear devices built in the 1970s and how to repair nuclear reactors built in the 1960s. In many other situations, life and death are at risk.

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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Roger E. Herman on October 29, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The generation of workers that is moving into retirement now-the Traditionalists, followed by the huge (76.4 million) Baby Boomer cohort-has experienced an unprecedented era of change and growth. Workers in this period have typically stayed with one employer for many years, accumulating experience, continuity, and a wealth of knowledge that is principally captured within the individual. Now, as these workers retire, they're taking that invaluable knowledge with them; it's not being captured effectively to be used by successors. This loss is potentially a tremendous risk and cost for employers and for society.

The book, written by a a research fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Age Lab, is organized into three sections. The opening chapters explain the high cost of losing intellectual capital. The author provides an abundance of delicious examples of how the departure of workers with unique, uncaptured knowledge and experience will wreak havoc in practically every environment. He certainly makes his case, and maybe even overdoes it. I felt, at times, that I was getting bogged down in an almost repetitious litany of exposure to the problem.

Part two takes us into evaluating knowledge retention practices. Readers will gain insights into developing the infrastructure and the process of preserving what people have absorbed, but not recorded or passed along to others. Again, DeLong presents a large volume of information, examples, and case studies-so much material that it seems to get in the way of the message. The small type size and book design make the book even more difficult to read. The content is strong, but the presentation was not holding my attention.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Peter Miller on May 26, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Lost Knowledge-a review

I enjoyed Lost Knowledge immensely. I am not a corporate manager,

but I found the book's insights and suggestions interesting, amusing and valuable. It's also incredibly readable. The anecdotes and stories are clever and compelling. The chapter dealing with the transfer of "explicit knowledge" got me thinking again about a woman I had known, the assistant to the head of an important organization, who had worked with him for several decades. She knew everything about anything. One day she was suddenly hit by a bus and killed and all her knowledge went with her. It took three people to replace her and even then...

The chapter on transferring "tacit" knowledge was also right on target. I didn't realize, until I turned my business over to colleagues, just how much of what I did (dealing with vendors, clients, buyers, employees) was either instinctual or learned and nowhere written down. This book also made me reexamine the current spate of industrial mishaps and accidents. I wonder how much of what happens (train derailments, chemical spills, etc) are a result of what DeLong suggests is departed experience.

The author identifies many hidden traps and challenges of lost knowledge and explains them clearly. Like the knowledge it so earnestly beseeches us to protect, this book should be kept and revisited as questions and challenges arise. If I were running a business again, I would consider this required reading.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By L. King on March 12, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I'm not much of a fan of management consultant books as I generally find them quite faddish. They usually state that there is a problem, enter a few amusing anecdotes that illustrate what they mean and follow up with some suggested solutions. In that sense this book is no different, but far closer to the Tom Peters academic style than the "One Minute Manager"

However the problem that it discusses struck a resonant chord in me. Years ago I viewed a tape from Texas Instruments that talked about capturing the knowledge of a distillation column engineer for Campbell's soup in a expert system. The gentleman was retiring soon, and the company didn't know what he knew and felt the best approach was to build a system that modelled his expertise. What I never found out was how successful the approach was in the end. (This story is not in the book.)

The basic problem is that through retirement and attrition key knowlege in many organizations disappears. No one knows who knows what nor the value of that knowledge before it is gone. The problem is exascerbated by the huge lump of the baby boomers when they retire. The anecdotes include NASA no longer knowing how to get to the moon any more using Saturn V technology (the plans are lost), Sandia labs needing to retain the knowledge of how to build, test and dismantle nuclear weapons, given that they haven't built or tested a weapon in years, the cost rediscovering wiring and conduits in building that we no longer have the blueprints of. The solution lies in identification, sharing, managing and storytelling. Various success stories are brought out to support the points. Strategies such as Communities of Practice and the U.S.
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