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  • David Verhaag

Unintended Consequences


This morning I sat down to write a blog post and was struggling with today’s topic. And then I heard my wife shout “WTH!” and the sound of rushing water. Neither is a good morning sound.


I rushed down from my office loft to find my wife staring into our utility closet where we had an instant hot water heater and the electrical panels. Water was spraying everywhere.


We quickly found the main water shut off for the house. With water pouring from the water heater we also found the drain valve and started emptying the unit into a bucket. With towels soaking up water and the crisis in hand we got back to the key question, “WTH”?


The cause of the water crisis, a frozen pipe had burst. Not a frozen pipe under the house which we just had re-insulated. A frozen pipe in the hot water heater in the utility closet, in the house! Our frozen pipe was an unintended result of overheating the house… to keep pipes from freezing.


Because the house is old the water heater is, or was, almost an antique. By heating the house and opening the closet door so the pipes wouldn’t freeze we inadvertently pulled cold air directly into the hot water heater via the venting causing it to freeze and burst.

With fans and heaters drying out the house I got back to my writing. Today’s topic, the unintended consequences of delaying knowledge management.


We recently met with a 600 person startup that is going through the challenges of scale. Specifically, they are trying to solve one of the new problems of their size, too much information in too many places at work.


Like many startups, they have been operating in a just get it done (GSD) way for several years. If different teams need tools like Guru or Confluence or Paper to ensure they can organize team knowledge and assets they just bought them. Solve today’s problem today and move on.


Now, years later teams are struggling to update assets in multiple knowledge management solutions. Different teams use different tools which work great for the team but when, for example, the product team posts the roadmap to Confluence and CX is using Guru and Sales using another tool problems start compounding. Employees are left struggling to find the information they need.


Knowledge management is an opportunity best addressed early. It’s also an opportunity best addressed with a long-term view of growth and scale.


In the early days of staying scrappy and just GSD, it’s often easy to postpone strategic decisions around knowledge management. Unfortunately, putting it off can lead to downstream consequences that are harder to resolve. It’s a bit like opening a closet door to warm the pipes versus solving the core problem. The end result, knowledge assets all over the place.

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