posted 16 Dec 2003 in Volume 7 Issue 4
Put it to the board: Don’t share, build
The truth is that knowledge work is not democratic; we are not all going to be knowledge workers. Neither is everyone going to be predisposed or equipped to create, far less share, any real knowledge in a world that still confuses data with information. The solution lies in creatively reframing the problem from how to share all the knowledge in people’s heads into how to build something new through knowledge building. We can ask people to empty their intellectual pockets and contribute the contents to the general good, or we can share a challenge, a journey to another place that will involve them in building and sharing tools that carry them towards their goal. If we can define the type of knowledge we want to build, we can then focus attention and resource to make it happen and start working on the problem of just how to engage the right constituents to build it.
The earliest stage of knowledge management was cursed by the idea that whoever knew the most and could manage the most ‘knowledge’ would run off with the glittering prize of the global knowledge economy. In time, the futility of this exercise was glimpsed but the promise of better search engines, individual disciplines and metadata tagging suggested that this was still attractive, and so the knowledge farmers and miners continued the trend. Had they dared to consider the possibility that the knowledge revolution was not going to be a computerised improvement on stamp collecting or librarianship? No.
But if I share this ‘knowledge’ of mine with you, how can you tell whether it’s any good? Is it knowledge, information or even just structured data? How can you tell it is my knowledge? And how can I share something with you if we do not share the same purpose and I do not know what has value in your eyes?
A common request from knowledge-work consulting is to advise an organisation on how to establish a knowledge-sharing culture. This can go many ways. You can either begin trying to shift the culture by inventing or documenting stories that carry the ‘knowledge sharing is good’ message. It may be possible to cut to the chase and point out that until the organisation has a market-value strategy that identifies the kinds of knowledge that need to be created, and plans its market-value lifecycles, it will largely be a waste of time.
To put it another way. If you ever get confused about knowledge. Firmly grasp the arms or underside of your chair. Take a deep breath, close your eyes and repeat the phrase, ‘competitive advantage’ to yourself until you feel better. Unless you can link your business strategy to the maintenance of existing knowledge and development of new knowledge, you can only waste time sharing things that need to be constantly interpreted and which may only have slight value. Remember some facilitators use the phrase ‘thank you for sharing that’, when what they really want you to do is shut up.
Chief learning officer, Pfizer Research University (Europe)