Lost & found: silver screen gems rediscovered

Two recent NPR stories caught my attention for how they speak to a pervasive problem plaguing organizations like mine: loss of organizational history.

One story is about “Bruce,” the name given to the three giant fake sharks used in the movie Jaws. After the filming concluded, all three models were lost and most likely destroyed. After all, you can’t keep every movie prop for sentimental reasons, right? Of course, hindsight is 20/20 and so, years later, the efforts of a determined journalist finally paid off. After coordinating tips from a dedicated Jaws fan community, a fourth shark made from the same mold as the movie models was found in a California auto yard. Used as a prop at the Universal Studios Theme Park in Hollywood, this 25-foot-long behemoth was sorely weathered. But Jaws fans can finally rejoice that a key piece of Americana has been found.

A similar story revealed that 75 silent films were recovered from the New Zealand Film Archive. One such film is a 1927 feature called Upstream by four-time Oscar-winning director John Ford. These early American movies were sent to remote areas of the globe late in their lifecycle. The physical films degraded quickly and, since they were shipped in heavy metal cans, distributors in the States thought it financially wise to abandon them rather than pay to ship them back. However, projectionists and collectors thankfully protected them until they found their way to the vaults of the New Zealand national archive.

Both of these stories are examples where the value of something – films and film props – wasn’t realized until years after they were lost. And, while I can understand how financial limitations prevented preserving a giant shark and dozens of classic films, the same doesn’t apply to expert knowledge and experience. These types of “artifacts” are easy to preserve, especially with the availability of social enterprise tools like blogs.

So I have two questions for you

Can you think of a project or area of expertise you worked on years ago that has since been lost because the knowledge wasn’t captured properly?

What can you do – today – to prevent repeating this mistake?

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