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Sunday, April 05, 2009

Why We Share Knowledge

Good post by Nancy Dixon on why we share knowledge. Covers important implications for knowledge management and the roles of people within the enterprise.

My own experience is that I have seen a largely self-selecting group within companies who are very willing to share knowledge widely. It is often the case, though that precisely the people you would like to have additionally participate in knowledge sharing methods like blogs and wikis will not. Using specific job roles like knowledge archivists and business information experts is useful as well. With the emergence of intranets and the shrinking of physical corporate library facilities, the assumption appears to be that searches will replace much of that infrastructure. Knowledge and AI based approaches were widely explored in the 80s, but only partially successful. Years later, well after intranet search became common, I was still being asked for ways to store key knowledge upon company retirements.

Good idea to continue to look at the incentive that can be provided to people to make knowledge readily available and usable.


Vic Uzumeri said...

I tend to look at problems like this with an analogy to a simple battery/resistance circuit.

The goal is to encourage more current (e.g., knowledge) to flow through the circuit.

There are two competing/complementary approaches: 1) increase the voltage, or 2) decrease the resistance. Or both.

Raising the incentives for experts to share is a voltage-raising approach. Providing facilitating technology and assistive job functions is a resistance-reducing approach.

The problem in most real-world knowledge capture problems is that organizations too often find themselves in situations where a) the voltage is nearly zero, or b) the resistance is very high.

If the expert is cutting his/her own throat by sharing (or thinks they are), it won't matter how much you invest in making the process easier. If the experts are eager to share, but the available methods are tedious, complex, or intimidating, experts' resistance will be nearly infinite.

Successful outcomes occur when the both factors are engineered to lie within reasonable ranges.

Franz Dill said...

Nicely put, Vic. The analogy is good for a former physicist like myself as well. Most of the experts I worked with were near retirement or well established so that they would not be disenfranchising themselves. That issue rarely came up during our 'knowledge-engineering' with them though we were sensitive to the problem. The reasonable-range metric is a good thing to consider. Thanks again.