Wednesday 2 May 2018

Do youngsters have to "earn the right to know"?

Is it a valid view, that people on the receiving end of knowledge transfer should "earn the right to knowledge?"

Image from wikimedia commons
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.  Passing on hard-won knowledge feels like giving something precious, and you have to feel it is valued. Maybe this is not logical, perhaps it is pure emotion, but for these workers it was a strong emotion.

I don't know what was driving this sentiment. Partly there was some resentment of the youngsters, who 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 likely to be 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.

This is the model used in the Rolls-Royce Knowledge Acquisition projects, and it works really well in terms of knowledge transfer and knowledge capture.

Maybe if the recipients of the knowledge transfer actually do most of the hard work during the transfer process, perhaps that earns them the right to know?

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