posted 5 Apr 2004 in Volume 7 Issue 7
Knowledge seekers wanted
In knowledge management, we often refer to the knowledge-value chain: identifying, creating, capturing, sharing, applying and evaluating knowledge. Value is created when these activities support the strategy of the organisation and its stakeholders.
In practice, most KM projects focus on knowledge sharing. On the one hand, the (technical) infrastructure for sharing is the subject for development; on the other, there is strong interest in the behavioural and cultural aspects. It is the human aspects of knowledge sharing that ask the question, how do we motivate people to share their knowledge?
But sharing involves giving and receiving. In my view, emphasis lies too heavily on giving when the bottleneck is often created by people who do not look or ask for knowledge, and when they find it, fail to apply it. Real knowledge professionals are keen to find existing knowledge, develop and enrich it. It can be less intellectually rewarding to re-invent knowledge than combine existing knowledge with your own ideas, experiences and information. As Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further than others, it was because I was standing on the shoulders of giants.” Progress in science is made by adding new insights and results to knowledge that has been disseminated via journals, conferences, books and direct collaboration. Scientists who do not actively stay informed risk duplication or falling behind.
Few organisations make optimal use of knowledge. I would adapt the famous quote, “If HP knew what it knows, we would be three times more profitable”, and go one step further, “If we applied what we know, we would be ten times more profitable”. What is the point of stimulating knowledge contributions if there is nobody at the receiving end? Too often we are confronted with the ‘not invented here’ syndrome: colleagues who will not admit that they don’t know something or people who are too busy to save time. The problem gets worse as the distance between the owner and knowledge user increases. Examples are yellow-pages systems and Q&A applications. Managers worry about the workload these systems might generate or people’s unwillingness to answer questions, but these are rarely problems. The real challenge is motivating people to use the tools, look for someone who can help and ask questions. Many professionals under-utilise the most valuable asset of the organisation: the knowledge available.
What can you do? Start the dialogue. Motivate people to look for knowledge in a more efficient, effective and enjoyable way. Make people aware of the knowledge available. Create trust and respect for each other’s ideas and experiences. Reward people who contribute knowledge, but also those who create value by using existing knowledge. Ensure new projects start by looking for relevant, existing knowledge. Stimulate direct knowledge transfer via knowledge fairs, master-apprentice relations, CoPs, teamwork and dedicated tools, for example. It is about creating an environment where professionals enjoy both sides of the knowledge-sharing process: giving and taking.