Wednesday 24 April 2013

"Earning the right to know"

A couple of years ago, I was looking at the issue of knowledge transfer between experienced staff and young staff. There were a whole raft of issues that made this very difficult - issues of incentives, of job security, of national identity (the youngsters were a different nationality and social class to the experienced workers) - but there was one objection I had not heard before.

"We learned this knowledge the hard way" the older workers said. "Why should we give it to these young people for nothing? They should earn the knowledge, as we did".

That is an interesting viewpoint. Maybe just "giving away" hard-earned knowledge felt wrong; like giving your child a Ferrari at the age of 18, instead of them having to earn it through hard work.

I don't know what was driving this sentiment. Partly there was some resentment of the youngsters. They were from a privileged class anyway, and the only leverage - the only capital - the older workers had was their knowledge. But maybe there is also a valid point there - that knowledge which is not earned, is not valued.

Our solution was to suggest a system where the youngsters played the active role in the knowledge transfer; where they became the interviewees, the video recorders, and the creators of the wikis. They had to become the Knowledge Managers for their own knowledge, so had to put in some hard work of their own in order to ensure the knowledge was socialised, externalised, combined and internalised. They would not be passive receivers, they would work hard to get the knowledge.

However it did make me think long and hard about the master/apprentice model in knowledge transfer, and the need for the master to see the apprentice "earning" their knowledge, and "earning" the right to know..

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