Only people can let knowledge flow

The knowledge sharing paradox is that while sharing our knowledge is good for the organization, each individual has to see a personal benefit as well. The more the enterprise directs knowledge-sharing, the less likely it will happen. Conversely, the less structured the process, the more difficult it is for the organization to benefit. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, or so it seems. Helen Blunden neatly sums up what can happen to those who freely share their knowledge.

I felt that my network, my trusted network which I worked hard to maintain, cultivate, nurture, trust and grow was going to be exploited by other individuals within the organisation who saw me as their ‘free ride’ to some quick answers.

Aye, there’s the rub; as Helen goes on:

My key learning point always goes back to looking at the culture of the organisation.  If there is a genuine, authentic opportunity to share and learn and be respectful of each other’s networks then I have no problem with it at all.  If it is mandated, or if my networks are used, misused or discounted, then I’d question why I’m even working there.

Knowledge flows when individuals actively engage in teams, communities, and networks by working and learning out loud. Both cooperative and collaborative behaviours, depending on the situation, are required. However, most organizations only focus on collaboration and fixed goals. Management often views cooperation as an aimless waste of time, which it can be. But collaboration and too much focus on teamwork can be detrimental to the organization as well.

knowledge flowsCommunities of practice can connect the knowledge flows between those messy social networks and focused work. This is where PKM (personal knowledge mastery) and PLN (personal learning networks) appear to differ. One aim of PKM is to connect learning and work. Steve Wheeler sees communities of practice as separate from the PLN, which he describes as mostly in the informal and opportunity-driven social network space.

One of the key differences I see between the two is that in PLNs, connections can be fairly random and interactions largely informal. Often there is a common ground such as a mutual interest or shared concern, but generally those who make up my PLN are a fairly ad hoc group of friends, colleagues, family and also those who have casually connected with me either through my instigation or theirs. In CoPs, connections are generally more deliberate, focused upon practice, often of a professional nature, and the interactions are focused largely upon the shared business of that community of practice.

PKM is focused on individuals who must negotiate and transcend the artificial barriers between their teams, communities of practice, and networks. Inside that person’s head, there are no knowledge barriers. However, discerning with whom and when to share, remains a key part of effective PKM. Social learning requires social intelligence, but organizations have to establish ways to support the multifaceted knowledge worker, or continue to face the knowledge sharing paradox. Understanding that people, not management systems, enable knowledge flow would be a good start.

connecting with PKM

2 Responses to “Only people can let knowledge flow”

  1. Randall Templeton

    This tension between official and unofficial networks has always been there and will continue. The overlap between the systems becomes smaller when employees feel that the official network enforces status-quo and is designed to limit activity (i.e. spend money). In some organizations the business as usual mantra becomes a barrier to anything new or interesting. The path to career opportunity becomes limited to a small group that looks, talks and acts like the boss’s image of himself. I had several irritating conversations with upper level managers – people I’ve known for twenty years responding to my questions with a lecture on “bringing value to the corporation”. It was clear I had ceased to be a person to them and was now just a resource (like electricity or floor space). How do you network with that?


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