I blogged recently about the Long Tail of Knowledge, and how a Community of Practice can find answers and advice from practitioners other than the core group of company experts.
Here is a story from a young man I interviewed many years ago, explaining how, although only a recent graduate, he was able to share results of a study with another business unit, and so help them make the correct decision.
"I had been involved in writing a report on the success of fishing for stuck pipe* in the Gulf of Mexico. I had written this report for a manager who needed to pull together lessons in order to make a decision of whether to fish or not, and I was able to use some of the tools that we have to capture our experience, and also to go back to the databases and make some statistical analysis of our success rates.
"One day a question comes through on the online Community of Practice forum, and the question was “what has been a success rate of fishing for stuck pipe in different areas”, and this came from another business unit on another continent. Basically it was very close to the my scenario, so I could share what I had done with them.
"You feel the power of knowledge, and the value that this may represent, when you receive a response back saying 'Thank you very much for your reply, because it actually helped us to make a decision'. It was an incredible experience to be able to answer a question on the forum, even with having very little experience, 2 1/2 years of experience, and already I am able to advise the whole world on some of the things that we do and how we do it".The last sentence shows some of the spin-off cultural benefit. This young man is now a real believer in knowledge sharing, having been "part of the process" depsite being (in experience terms) a long way down the tail.
* (Fishing for stuck pipe is what you need to do on an oil well if the drilling equipment breaks off while drilling. You can either try and fish it out (a difficult task!) or start the well over again (an expensive task!). Making the correct decision here is not easy)