Organizational Memory


Organizational memory is a generic concept that represents the organizational capacity for encoding, storing, retrieval, and decoding the organizational knowledge. It is an intangible asset of any organization that comprises cognitive, emotional, and spiritual knowledge in their multiple forms. Although many researchers conceived and described organizational memory using as a metaphor individual memory, organizational memory integrates a significant social contribution. Transactive memory is the first extension of individual memory and it is specific for the teams. Organizational culture contributes directly with the emotional and spiritual knowledge to the content of organizational memory. Beliefs, value, stories, myths, and traditions encode fundamental emotional and spiritual knowledge from the organizational history. Organizational memory can be enhanced by technology, especially by information systems. In the last years, new opportunities opened by using Big Data and cloud computing.
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According to Thompson and Madigan (2007, p. 1), “Memory is the most extraordinary phenomenon in the natural world.” It incorporates knowledge about language, basic mathematics, facts and skills that have been learned, personal experiences, musical and athletic performance, emotions and feelings, believes and values. Thus, memory is not only about rational knowledge, but it integrates as well emotional and spiritual knowledge.

Rajan Mahadevan used to surprise his school colleagues with his amazing memory. He could tell the complete railway timetable for the Calcuta railway system. Later he demonstrated his extraordinary memory in a public event organized by the Guiness World Records Limited in Mangalore, India, on July 14, 1981, when he recited numbers for 3 hours and 49 minutes, reaching 31,811 digits of π without any errors. He set up a new memory record concerning π composition. Later on, in 1987, Hideaki Tomoyoni from Japan recited the first 40,000 digits of π and replaced Rajan in the Guiness book of records (Thompson & Madigan, 2007). These are amazing examples of the power of rational memory, especially the memory for numbers. There are also examples of excellent memory for words, music, or images. For instance, the story goes that the famous conductor Arturo Toscanini wanted at a certain event to conduct his NBC orchestra in a rather obscure piece, the slow movement of Joachim Raff’s Quartet no.5. Since he couldn’t find the score in the New York libraries and music stores, Toscanini wrote down all the orchestral parts for the entire movement. Although he had not seen the music for decades, he wrote the score from his fantastic memory, making only one error:

Such feats of memory seem to be beyond most of us. Indeed such individuals are extremely rare; only a handful have been identified in the past 100 years or so. At the same time, actors routinely memorize entire plays, musicians memorize long musical scores, and adherents of some religions commit vast amounts of sacred text to memory. (Thompson & Madigan, 2007, p. 5)

In Chapter 3, I introduced the concept of emotional knowledge which is an integral part of the human knowledge. Related to emotional knowledge and emotional intelligence is emotional memory, which constitutes an integral part of our memory and which is in a continuous dynamics with rational and spiritual memories (Damasio, 2012; LeDoux, 1999; Thompson & Madigan, 2007; Zohar & Marshall, 2004). Human memory is related to our capacity of traveling in time from the past toward the future. According to Restak (2012, p. 137), past, present and future form an experiential continuum and “The journey along this continuum is facilitated by cultivating the art of memory since stepping out of the here and now frequently requires us to revisit the past as well as envision the future.” Due to this capacity of mental time travel, we can imagine ourselves as older or younger, being entrepreneurs or top managers, starting a new project or ending it, defining a strategic objective or achieving it. That is possible due to the interactive flux of information and knowledge between short-term working memory designed for here and know, and the long-term working memory designed to keep in mind two or more mental scenarios over an extended period of time:

Working memory includes new information but also retrieval of knowledge from long-term memory and awareness of one’s surroundings, what is commonly referred to as consciousness or awareness. Long-term memory is the vast store of information you possess and are not aware of unless you call it up. (Thompson & Madigan, 2007, p. 24)

Our working memory is generally very short. For instance, for most of us our visual short-term memory lasts about a fifth of a second. It is important to distinguish between having a memory of some events experienced in the past and having only memorized information and knowledge about events in the past. For instance, a young man has studied the history of the World War II and has a lot of knowledge about that period of time in his mind. He may recall some of that knowledge in a context about the World War II, but he cannot remember events he did not lived. In this situation we talk about memory as an information and knowledge store and not about stored direct experiences. As Audi (2011, p. 63) emphasizes:

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