Monday, 17 May 2010

Too much knowledge sharing devalues knowledge?

OK, this post has a provocative title, but I would like to make the case that a focus on knowledge sharing without a corresponding focus on knowledge seeking and re-use (note the qualification here) can have a detrimental effect on your KM efforts.

Let's think about knowledge sharing and knowledge seeking - knowledge push, and knowledge pull - knowledge supply, and knowledge demand.

Let's think in economic terms.

What happens when supply exceeds demand in a market? Prices fall, and value is destroyed. A commodity where supply far exceeds demand is a devalued commodity. Maybe supply will stimulate some demand, or maybe you just create an oversaturated market, and you end up dumping surplus stock.

What happens when demand exceeds supply? Prices rise, and value is created. A commodity where demand exceeds supply is a valued commodity. Almost always demand will create supply, and you will end up with a marketplace.

An oversupply of knowledge (full databases not being used, loads of stuff filed and not read, loads of blogs with no readers) devalues knowledge. Its seen as "a waste of time" to capture all this stuff. "Why bother? Nobody reads it". Knowledge sharing, without reuse, quickly becomes a low-value activity.

An overdemand for knowledge (lots of questions on community forums, lots of people searching for things, lots of expert opinions being sought, a few cracking blogs with eager readership) may cause frustration if the answer is NOT found, but certainly raises the value of the knowledge which is in there. What generally you find in this case is that initially the bulk of knowledge which is found is tacit (people find people to ask), but this level of demand will cause increasingly more knowledge to be documented. Once the expert has been asked the same question frequently enough, he/she starts an FAQ, and the supply of explicit knowledge starts to grow as well.

That's why I tend to react when people say "we must create a knowledge sharing culture". I would far rather create a culture of knowledge seeking and knowledge re-use, and use this demand to create supply and so raise the value of the knowledge itself.

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