Originally published February 17, 2016

Knowledge management doesn’t happen until somebody reuses something

Reused and adapted from:

Nothing happens until somebody sells something — Red Motley

Reuse is applying and adapting existing knowledge and content to new situations. Reuse is the core process of knowledge management.

I regularly reuse ideas and content in writing these posts, including my own and that of others. Some content from this post is taken from my book, and the image is reused from a logo I created for a KM program I led.

My own content includes old blog posts, presentations, community discussions, email messages, enterprise social network posts, instant message chats, articles, books, tweets, lists, images, and other content that I created, adapted, or collated. Most of my posts include multiple links to other posts, articles, and presentations.

Other people’s content includes quotes, paraphrases, excerpts, images, videos, recordings, concepts, insights, frameworks, compilations, and citations. Such content should be attributed to the originators whenever possible.

I always encourage others to reuse my content. Here is an example from my friend Stuart French in Australia:

Benefits of Reuse

Once you have developed an effective process, you want to ensure that others use the process each time a similar requirement arises. If someone has written a document or created a presentation which addresses a recurring need, it should be used in all future similar situations. When members of your organization have figured out how to solve a common problem, know how to deliver a recurring service, or have invented a new product, you want that same solution, service, and product to be replicated as much as possible. Just as the recycling of materials is good for the environment, reuse is good for organizations because it minimizes rework, prevents problems, saves time, and accelerates progress.

Reusing content can be repeated over and over. In The Wealth of Knowledge, Thomas Stewart provided an example. “Art Buchwald’s jokes and satiric stories began life in his newspaper column, which he then collected into books, which then enjoyed second and third lives in book-club and paperback editions, plus translations; and then he told the same stories on the speaking circuit.”

Here are five more ways to reuse, and the benefits of each:

  1. Adapt previous deliverables to avoid redundant effort and thus reduce costs and increase profits
  2. Replicate proven practices to avoid making the same mistakes twice and thus avoid costly failures
  3. Apply existing expertise, experience, and problem-solving capability to take advantage of what the organization already knows and has accomplished and thus increase revenues
  4. Repeat standard processes and procedures to ensure consistency and predictability and thus increase profits
  5. Adopt published methods, tools, templates, and techniques to deliver effectively and with high quality and thus increase customer satisfaction


Although the benefits of reuse may appear to be obvious, it is useful to require reuse and support it through a formal process. A formal process for reuse facilitates the application of captured knowledge, community suggestions, and collaborative assistance provided through knowledge sharing.

Reuse is the other side of capture. It represents the demand for the knowledge supply which results from a knowledge capture process. In order for reuse to succeed, there must be a good supply of reusable content, it must be easy to find, and it must be in a format suitable for reuse.

Knowledge capture and reuse processes are often combined into a single process which provides for both the supply and the demand for knowledge. A related policy which defines what must be captured and reused, and a related procedure which specifies how to do so should be created.

In addition to the reuse of captured documents, other reuse processes can take advantage of advice offered by communities and knowledge help desks. Many of the other KM components lend themselves to reuse, including people (training, documentation, user assistance), process (methodologies, lessons learned, proven practices, valuation, storytelling), and technology (repository content, threaded discussion content, search results, e-learning content).

What to Reuse

Most of the following can be used as is or adapted to meet specific needs.

1. Answers

  • Replies to questions
  • Solutions to problems
  • FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
  • Call center responses

2. Documents

  • Messages
  • Communiques
  • Articles
  • Presentations and slides
  • Document templates
  • Slide templates

3. Project Materials

  • Requirements
  • Functional specifications
  • Plans
  • Estimates
  • Statements of work
  • Deliverables

4. Classification

5. Visual

  • Images
  • Graphics
  • Branding
  • Color schemes
  • Fonts
  • Videos: how-to instructions, stories, interviews with departing experts, etc.
  • Blueprints
  • Designs
  • User Interfaces

6. Processes

7. Software

  • Source code
  • Callable subroutines
  • Code templates
  • Spreadsheet templates

8. Memory Devices

  • Mnemonics
  • Acronyms
  • Checklists
  • Memorization: math tables, bridge bidding, knot-tying, Morse code, etc.

9. Learning

10. Tacit Knowledge

  • Experience
  • Expertise
  • Principles
  • Concepts
  • Critical thinking
  • Ideas
  • Innovation: improve products, services, processes, methods, etc. while reusing them

11. Spoken Word

12. Social Media

  • Retweets
  • Shares
  • Feeds

13. Disciplines

  • Medicine: diagnosis, procedure, treatment, etc.
  • Science: repeat experiments, verify results, expand on what is known
  • Mathematics: e.g., Andrew Wiles reused the Taniyama-Shimura Conjecture in his proof of Fermat’s last theorem
  • Music: chord progressions, guitar tunings, melodies, instrumentation, lyrics, themes, answer songs, sampling, the folk process, Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan song adaptations, cover songs, etc.

What Not to Reuse

  1. Buzzwords, insider jargon, and corporate speak
  2. Incorrect usage: bad language drives out good
  3. Politics: stump speeches, sticking to the core message, staying on message — Marco Rubio was called out on this by Chris Christie during a presidential debate
  4. Movies: plots, sequels, prequels, and remakes
  5. Music: highly-derivative or thinly-disguised song ripoffs
  6. Copycat/me-too books and products
  7. Typecasting and stereotypes
  8. Unattributed content, copyrighted material, unauthorized reproductions — this is plagiarism

What are some other example of reuse in action? Feel free to reuse content (authorized, of course) in your comments.