Nobody will look for knowledge from others, if they think they already know what to do.
This means that the best way to promote learning and re-application of knowledge across an organisation, is to give people challenges they don't know how to meet, but which others have already solved.
These "impossible" challenges push people out of the comfort zone of “I know how to do this”, into a zone of “this is tough – I’d better see what knowledge is out there that can help me”. Then they will look for knowledge from others, to help them solve the problem.
Ford did this in the days of the Ford Best Practice Replication System. Through applying continuously decreasing operating budgets, they forced their plants into a situation where they had to learn in order to deliver.
John Browne (the BP CEO in the 90s and early 00s) did this in BP. He expected every project to deliver better than the previous project, and his budget allocations and performance targets reflected this. He forced continuous improvement in delivery and cost, and the only way to continuously improve was to continuously learn. For the project manager, these "stretch goals" were seriously uncomfortable ("How the h*** does he expect me to cut the budget by another 20%?”) and it pushed them to seek advice, look for the best of the best, and build upon the entire knowledge base of the organisation. As a result, these stretch targets were drivers of innovation, knowledge management and continuous improvement.
It's a question of receptivity. You can't transfer knowledge unless the recipient is receptive.
To be receptive, they need to have feel a need to learn, and they have to think that their own personal knowledge is not enough to solve the challenge.
Tough targets alone are not the answer.Do not think that I am just advocating setting arbitrary stretch goals which cannot be reached, That would be crazy; demoralising to staff and suicide for the organisation.
Instead I am advocating challenging people to do at least as well, if not better, than their colleagues, and combining this with a KM system that makes it possible to learn from these collagues.
In both the Ford and BP cases, the strong delivery push from management was coupled with an effective knowledge management framework. Just increasing the pressure without providing systems for learning would not have worked – it would have added stress to the organisation. Increasing the pressure while also providing good KM, on the other hand, provided the incentives for knowledge to flow around the system to where it was needed (driven by “demand Pull”), and fuelled continuous performance increase over a number of years.
So remember, if you want to promote a knowledge seeking culture in your company (and a knowledge seeking culture is a far better driver of KM than a knowledge sharing culture), then your senior managers may need to push people out of the comfort zone where they can rely on what they already know.