Building a knowledge database for employees – The memory palace in the digital workplace

Digital Workplace - Published July 9, 2020

There are many methods to build and create a knowledge base. Ever since BBC’s big hit series “Sherlock”, the “memory palace” has become familiar to many people. Various scenes illustrate how the master detective Sherlock Holmes makes the huge amount of knowledge he has acquired accessible. Connections between individual terms and contexts are visualized, allowing us to understand how Holmes draws his conclusions. But is this technique also transferable to the digital workplace?




The method of the memory palace, or mind palace, has its origin in Roman and Greek rhetoric. Its goal was to give the ability to memorize complex argumentation structures. Today, this technique is used to make knowledge retrievable from the head.


The memory palace – making knowledge retrievable

The purpose of the memory palace is to store and retrieve knowledge in large quantities by visualizing and storing information in imaginary or real spaces. Through the mental construction of connected rooms and the resulting categorical filing of information, it is possible to grasp connections and comprehensive information and to make them accessible quickly. This is possible because the information is linked to the storage location.

An example for remembering passwords is the storage of the password in an imaginary safe. Here, it can be “picked up” when required, without the owner having to have it permanently in their head.


How does the memory palace method work?

To get started, you should begin with small rooms to not lose the overview. Little by little, more rooms can be added where more knowledge can be stored, thus creating a memory palace. The memory palace should be run through again and again so that the memory training is successful in the long run.

It is argued that the method of the memory palace is not very suitable for everyday use, because it is too complex for active use. Nevertheless, the spatial design of knowledge gives a good understanding of how knowledge and information should be stored. It becomes clear that by linking contexts and storing them in associative places, knowledge is easier to access.


Can the memory palace method be applied to building a digital knowledge base?

The technique offers numerous possibilities for spatial and visual design. A direct transfer of a memory palace into the digital workplace would probably be very elaborate. However, the basic principle of making large amounts of knowledge retrievable through visualization, correlations, and categorical filing is certainly a sensible strategy. If you look at knowledge management in the digital workplace from the perspective of this method, it is important to divide information logically into categories, to create simple links, and to give all employees the opportunity to access the knowledge at any time and place.



The memory palace in the digital workplace – building a digital knowledge base

  • Create a basic framework

Reconstruct the rooms of a memory palace in the form of groups, pages or folders on the digital platform you use. However, before you start, you should consider which underlying structures make sense. How many “main rooms” are needed, what purpose they should serve, and how they can be structured within. Here, structure is the key. After all, you don’t (usually) jump from the attic into the basement. Consequently, your “rooms” should be designed in such a way that they are logically connected to each other: Set up subfolders and categories and link groups, folders or information that refer to each other. Now, users can begin to store their knowledge and information categorically.

  • Visualize

By visual means, knowledge can be processed faster and is easier to remember. The visual design of the memory palace can also be reflected in the digital workplace. Make sure that knowledge is also conveyed through pictures, infographics, videos, or other media. This makes it easier for users to recall and remember them. The visual design also contributes to the fact that users enjoy using the platform more and, thus, interact more.

  • Setting up filters

Even with virtually unlimited storage space, the digital workplace can contain too much information that is not relevant, and which can cause confusion. When you start creating knowledge, you weigh up the options: Do you really need all the information, documents, and details? What is basically just ballast and obsolete files? Is there duplicate information? And if so, how can a connection be made between the different contexts, so that they are not stored several times? For this purpose, it is also useful to start with a few “rooms”. This makes it easier to introduce structures that can be expanded little by little, if necessary. This also applies to the rights that users have. In the beginning, it makes sense to restrict them so that, for example, users can only read and comment on content. The more familiar users are with the digital workplace, the more rights they can obtain and thus, contribute content that fills rooms and provides meaningful links.

  • Tap all your potential

Use the knowledge of all users to create a diverse repertoire of information and recognize important connections. Let the users fill the rooms by contributing their individual knowledge. Make sure to give them guidance so that structures are maintained and no chaos arises. Use different rooms and buildings for different purposes. For example, knowledge training requires different structures than knowledge storage. Find a way to combine training tools with your knowledge management tools. This gives users the possibility to easily switch between systems, as well as to grasp and, if necessary, document overarching relationships more quickly.

  • Clean up

… and do a spring cleaning. Just like in the memory palace, it is necessary to go through information and knowledge on a regular basis to optimize knowledge management. The content and structures must be checked for relevance and correctness. This also includes recycling, revising, deleting, or updating them. To facilitate this process, different persons responsible for different topics can be defined. These are then responsible for their respective areas and content. They are the experts who know their way around these “premises”.


Building a knowledge base in the digital workplace

Just like in real life, it helps to keep order and overview by keeping information where it belongs. This also applies to the digital workplace. The memory palace method is a proven technique that helps people remember things and make them accessible. Through structure, search functions, and mobility, users can access the knowledge they need at any time.

Through clear structures and the creation of links and connections, users can access knowledge faster because it is logically connected.

The metaphor of rooms in the digital workplace makes it clear how important it is to clearly divide and separate certain content, but also to link it. Without doors, none of the rooms can be entered; without cabinets and drawers, chaos would reign.

Annika Willers

9 Jul 2020