A Comprehensive Model of Learning and Forgetting

The apparent contradiction of these two streams of work—knowledge loss as simultaneously necessary and competence enhancing and also unwelcome and competence destroying—requires some sort of theoretical explanation. It also raises the question of whether there are other types of knowledge loss. Beginning with these observations, we have developed a framework useful in understanding the types of knowledge loss that occur in organizations (see Figure 20.1). First, we begin by differentiating types of knowledge loss based on the intentionality associated with it. Focusing on the intention behind knowledge loss allows us to change the onus from the outcomes of the process of forgetting (e.g. whether it was good or bad for the organization) to the organizational activity that preceded it. At its most basic, all forms of knowledge loss are the same; it is the relationship between the knowledge loss and the intention behind it that makes it positive or negative. In refocusing on intentionality, we can capture the role of managers in the process and provide a more useful set of categories of knowledge loss: in the first case, the intention is that forgetting shouldn’t occur; in the second, it is that unlearning should.

Figure 20.1 Modes of Organizational Forgetting


In addition to intentionality, the degree of embeddedness of the knowledge ...

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