knowledge-sharing paradox redux

Knowledge-sharing in the Enterprise

An effective suite of enterprise social tools can help organizations share knowledge, collaborate, and cooperate – connecting the work being done with the identification of new opportunities and ideas. In an age when everything is getting connected, it only makes sense to have platforms in place that enable faster feedback loops inside the organization in order to deal with connected customers, suppliers, partners, and competitors. It takes a networked organization, staffed by people with networked learning mindsets, to thrive in a networked economy.

Getting work done today means finding a balance between sharing complex knowledge to get work done (collaboration), and innovating in internet time (cooperation).

Watch the video to see how this model was initially developed: case study

Individual workers can develop agile sensemaking skills, using frameworks like personal knowledge mastery, to continuously learn and put their learning to work. For example, they can seek new ideas from their social networks, make sense of these ideas through experimentation with their communities of practice, try new ideas out alone or with their work teams, and then share these lessons learnt and new practices.

The Knowledge-sharing Paradox

But there is a major issue that gets ignored by software vendors, managers, IT departments, and most everyone else except the workers themselves. People will freely share their knowledge if they remain in control of it. Knowledge is a very personal thing. Most workers do not care about organizational knowledge bases.

“So my conclusion this time around was that the centralized stuff we spent so much time and money maintaining was simply not very useful to most practitioners. The practitioners I talked to about PPI [personal productivity improvement] said they would love to participate in PPI coaching, provided it was focused on the content on their own desktops and hard drives, and not the stuff in the central repositories.” –Dave Pollard (2005)

Professionals care about what they need to get work done. However, if we are going to build organizational knowledge from individual knowledge-sharing, we have to connect the two. The challenge is to enable ‘small pieces’ (individual knowledge-sharing) but keep them ‘loosely joined’ (minimal control) — to seek, make-sense of, and share knowledge.

The knowledge sharing paradox is that enterprise social tools constrain what they are supposed to enhance. Why would someone share everything they know on an enterprise network, knowing that on the inevitable day that they leave, their knowledge artifacts will remain behind? I could not imagine having my blog of fourteen years cut off from me. I would not put anywhere near the effort I do now if someone else controlled my access to this blog.

Enterprise knowledge sharing will never be as good as what networked individuals can do. Individuals who own their knowledge networks will invest more in them. Innovation outside of organizations will continue to evolve faster than inside. Companies that develop structures and policies, like  AAA, that bridge the individual-organizational knowledge-sharing divide will have significant business advantages.

The responsibility for knowledge-sharing must remain with the individual, but the organization can collect, curate, and redistribute what is shared. The organization can also help by providing tools and coaching on PKM. The organization’s role in knowledge-sharing then moves from being directive to facilitative.

7 thoughts on “knowledge-sharing paradox redux”

  1. You hit the nail on the head – Why share knowledge with the organization if it stays with the organization when I leave?

    The answer, then, is to let your knowledge workers post their expert advice on their own web sites, LinkedIn profiles, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Then if someone in the organization needs the knowledge, they link to the external resource.

    The objection by the organization is that if they allow this, then they run the risk of their “secrets” becoming public knowledge and they lose control of it. However, if the organization’s most valuable asset is its people, then this isn’t really a risk. They are only giving away their assets output and only a fraction of that. The other risk is that once the person leaves, then they no longer have access to the assets that person publishes.

    In actuality, the reverse is true. Even if a person leaves, as long as their knowledge is in the public domain, the organization will always have access to it, whether they pay that worker or not. In short, they can retain access to an asset if they set it free!

  2. To be fair, the problem is moot. The knowledge and experience, created by the individual, shared to the enterprise, is very rarely assimilated by the organisation. The number of reports, lessons learned and completion documents that have been written, are posted to the intranet and never been read nor reviewed and the next project creates new documentation, with no regard for what has been written before. This is probably because each individual, considers that he/she knows better than their predecessors. You knowledge is safe

    • Good point, Stewart. It’s also a sad picture of how most organizations work and don’t allow us to maximize human creativity.

  3. Stewart,
    The reason reports, lessons learned and completion documents languish unread is because they are virtually useless to anyone other than the team who participated in their creation. All the tacit knowledge has been stripped out of them, and the participants are too busy to think about what they learned in order to offer more generalized insights with a strong base of experience. Oracle was desperate for us to put our completed project documents into the KM system, but I talked to the KM folks and pointed out that the final project plan is absolutely worthless without the original plan and every event that cause the plan to change along the way. What works better is access to experienced people. In ’97 I started the first worldwide PM listserver designed to share real experience. People asked questions. then the vocal minority responded with our experience. We all learned something because, as is no surprise, my software-centric answer turned out to be different than Roger’s construction-oriented answer. We became a tribe and to my surprise membership was self-limiting. When I asked someone once why no one else from his company was part of NewGrange, he replied “and give away my secret weapon? He had found a competitive advantage in keeping NewGrange a secret, to be shared with only his closest friends. The group existed for 14 years until Gartner made me shut it down as a “conflict of interest”.


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