posted 18 Jan 2006 in Volume 9 Issue 5
Learning to share
By Chris Collison, Knowledgeable Limited, and member of the Inside Knowledge editorial board.
I’m writing this on a flight back from
For SAD sufferers, there are a number of therapeutic treatments But dealing with the various syndromes that affect groups or people in organisations and suppress knowledge sharing can be more challenging. I see them taking hold of many struggling communities, running rampant during benchmarking activities and becoming positively contagious whenever the words “good practice” are mentioned. Let’s look at four of them.
Not invented here (NIH). This is one of the better-known syndromes and one which successful, intelligent people are particularly susceptible to. NIH presents such symptoms as, “Ah, but we’re different here”; “You’d have to work with her to understand why that approach wouldn’t work”; “We have unique problems”, and an unspoken “Actually, we like coming up with unique solutions”. NIH can gain momentum over time, causing a business unit to develop strong resistance to any external ideas, sometimes under the cover of ‘having a culture of innovation’. The reality can actually be a ‘culture of re-invention';
Big boys don’t cry. “I didn’t get where I am today, by asking for help,” is the sentiment at the heart of this one. Author John Gray would position this as more of a male problem and I suspect he’s correct. “My colleagues will think I’m incompetent,” is the message that lies beneath the surface. These people think, “Success equals self-sufficiency”. But it’s not all introspection: “Once I’ve solved my problem in my own way, I’ll be happy to share my solution”;
These two syndromes attack the demand-side of the knowledge-sharing equation, but what about the supply-side?
Corporate modesty. This is a subtle ailment, manifested in such words as “Oh, we’re not doing anything special here”. Or, “We haven’t got anything that would work for others – our approaches are very context-sensitive”. Sometimes a deflection response will kick-in: “Why not talk to the real experts? We’re just a bunch of amateurs”;
Tall poppy syndrome. A close relative of corporate modesty, the tall-poppy sufferer fears attention, scrutiny, critique or any call upon their time. “I’m not going to say we have good practices here – I’ll get shot down in flames!” is typical. Alternatively, “If I share this, we’ll get inundated with phone calls and site visits – let’s just keep our heads down and get on with it”.
So with all these threats to the supply and demand-side of knowledge-sharing, is there a cultural antibiotic that can be prescribed, a knowledge-sharing “’flu jab”? Probably not, but there are conditions that can boost an organisation’s immune system.
Creating a common language is a great place to start. October’s IK charted how Geoff Parcell created a self-assessment approach to help combat the spread of HIV/AIDS during his secondment at the United Nations. Suddenly people realised that they had a currency for sharing ideas because they can all relate to the same set of definitions and levels.
With a common language in place, it is then easier to elicit offers and requests in the way oil company BP did through its Operational Excellence programme: “What three offers of help does your business unit have?” and, “What three requests?”. When all of my peers are part of the same process, I’ll find it much easier to share and identify where I need help.
As with any syndrome, a key step is to get the sufferers to recognise and discuss it. Just hop up on the couch, would you please?