The old adage that “those who do not remember their history are doomed to repeat it,” has been given new meaning with the term chief memory officer. The term has been used since the 2000s in business and industry, to describe a person appointed to record the history of a company, not only its history far in the past, but any developments that occur in the present that might need to be remembered. History collected by the chief memory officer can be gleaned from official documents and from the collective knowledge of employees. Not only may this help avoid future mistakes and point to solutions that have worked in the past, but it can also provide a way to record the organization’s collective knowledge.
Chief memory officer can be an informal term too. Employees who have “been there” for quite a while may be extremely good at remembering various things about the way a company organized and behaved in the past. Usually though, a company historian or chief memory officer looks to the “old-timers” and new employees to glean information and create a single source which can be accessed to plan the company’s future path.
Not all companies have a chief memory officer. Yet many experts in business and organizational management suggest that the position is an important one, and most useful when this officer looks at both success and failure: the triumphant moments and the not so great ones of the past. Though you can learn from success, learning from failure can be equally beneficial in plotting a course to future success, and can tell you what pitfalls to avoid.
Information might be recorded in written formats in an official printed document, or it may be available via digital means. It can become not only the history, but the encyclopedia of a company. Alternately, a chief memory officer could work in an advisory capacity to the company, informing them when they are getting into the murky territories that created problems in the past, or pointing to ways situations have been resolved that worked well.
In some families, even small ones, a person elects to be the chief memory officer or becomes one by default. This may be very informal. One family member is the photographer and records important moments in the life of the family. Other times, the chief memory officer of a family reaches back into time to construct genealogy reports, to gather any memoirs or writings together, and to create websites, books or printouts of the family’s history. In small families, if you take this role on, don’t neglect children. They form part of the collective knowledge of a family and can often remember many of the things that occur in a family, especially particularly negative things.
In either a family or a business, trying to gather a complete form of collective knowledge can be very difficult. The issue of perspective must be dealt with if you are trying to create an unbiased history. Moreover, in company settings, understanding the multiple perspectives of people you might interview about past events or company decisions can lead in a lot of different directions, and some people don’t remember things accurately. Deciding what to include and exclude can take considerable work.
However, organizational specialists suggest this work is valuable, and may help lead the company toward creating effective strategies and management plans in the present or future. A record of the company’s collective knowledge may be a way to thwart “repeating history.” Of course, much depends on whether the company actually uses the chief memory office or the data he/she collects before creating future plans.