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Lost Knowledge: Confronting the Threat of an Aging Workforce Hardcover – September 9, 2004

ISBN-13: 978-0195170979 ISBN-10: 0195170970 Edition: 0th

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Lost Knowledge: Confronting the Threat of an Aging Workforce + Teach What You Know: A Practical Leader's Guide to Knowledge Transfer Using Peer Mentoring + The Executive Guide to High-Impact Talent Management: Powerful Tools for Leveraging a Changing Workforce
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (September 9, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195170970
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195170979
  • Product Dimensions: 0.7 x 5.9 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #178,104 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 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 Eludium-Q36 on December 12, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Looks like I'm the lone dissenter at this point. I did not find DeLong's treatment at all worthwhile. My comments here are notations from my previous read of this so while they may not be very detailed, they do impart my general disappointment with what I'm noting.

My issues: this topic should be accompanied with plenty of revealing diagrams and graphics but he includes only a few basic diagrams in shades of gray that look like they took all of 10-minutes to create. He continually talks about utilizing retirees but that doesn't solve the problem at hand, it just prolongs it. He spends lots of time describing organizations' problems and posing questions. He does not survey international/foreign cultures to learn from their experiences or methods.

DeLong actually discourages IT as a solution (pg 119) when it's common wisdom that IT is an integral part of any knowledge management strategy! He talks about expert locator systems (pg 120) then mis-uses it in a subsequent example. He absurdly recommends, in this context, contacting people who've left a company. He peppers us with lots of anecdotes but never goes deep with them. DeLong introduces an anecdote as if it's a solution but then shows how it failed, so he contradicts himself. I don't see the any reference value of this book and am offering it for sale.
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