Friday, 4 December 2015

Just how "natural" is knowledge-sharing behaviour?

Are knowledge-sharing and knowledge-seeking natural behaviours among humans, or does it require people to do something against their natures?


One of the most senior managers at BP always used to say "Knowledge Sharing is an unnatural act".

By this, he meant that it is counter-cultural for a staff member to voluntarily take time out of his or her busy life, to potentially help someone else whom they have never met.  Hubert St Onge has said the same thing, as did Andrew L. Michuda Jr., CEO, Teltech Resource Network, and Lee and Al-Hawamdeh (2002), Al-Hawamdeh (2003), and many others.

But is this true?

I think in general it is, but that it varies from culture to culture, and from person to person.

As I said in my post on tribalism, people share knowledge naturally within their tribe, and naturally protect against cross-tribal knowledge sharing,

That's why the promise of technology - "provide it, and they will use it" - has seldom been delivered in KM. "Provide it and they will use it" will work for natural acts, such as friendship, socialising, gossip etc. But not for unnatural acts such as sharing knowledge with people outside their close "circle of trust". Just giving them smart shiny new technology (even web 2.0 technology) will not convince them to do something unnatural.

However, the degree of willingness to share and learn does vary from person to person.


  • About 20% see wide-scale knowledge sharing as natural to them. These people will be the early adopters of your KM implementation.
  • About 60% see it as unnatural, but will change their mind through peer pressure and management expectation. It will grow to become natural if everyone else is doing it. 
  • About  20% see KM as too unnatural, and won't do it. 


 The good news, is that in business we have already got people to do things that are unnatural - things like budgeting, like time writing, like writing reports. These are things that few or none of us does well at home, yet business have found a way to make them happen at work.

 KM can learn from how other management disciplines such as financial management, risk management and safety management have been applied and embedded. These disciplines require expectation, example, habit and reinforcement. in other words - governance.

4 comments:

Lisandro Gaertner said...

Or maybe the true work of Knowledge Management is create this "circle of trust". Not between roles or positions but between people. And these "circles of trust" will go beyond the companies. Maybe that's why the companies don't are to eager to build them. ;-)

tonyjoyce said...

Excellent points. To paraphrase Dave Snowden's observations, we share when there is a need and we know more than we say. Perhaps the groupings are related to perceptions of need, and misperceptions such as well known cognitive biases. If so, the work of KM may be to expand upon the needs vice the knowledge.

tonyjoyce said...

Excellent points. To paraphrase Dave Snowden's observations, we share when there is a need and we know more than we say. Perhaps the groupings are related to perceptions of need, and misperceptions such as well known cognitive biases. If so, the work of KM may be to expand upon the needs vice the knowledge.

Romilda Gareth said...

Thanks

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