Wednesday 4 May 2011

KM - when voluntary becomes optional.

One of David Snowden's dictums is that Knowledge can only be volunteered, it cannot be conscripted.

This is a good reminder of the fact that knowledge is personal, and resides in people's heads, from which it cannot be forced.

However there can be a middle way between voluntary and conscripted. Knowledge cannot be conscripted, but it can be requested, and sharing knowledge can even become expected.

Very few people will refuse to share knowledge when they are asked, so long as they realise there is a real need. I have only once seen someone say "I am not going to tell you" when they were asked to share knowledge, and that was because they were about to leave to become a consultant (though who would hire a consultant who would not share what they know").  Nancy Dixon says that many companies who think they have a Knowledge Sharing problem, actually have an Asking problem.

Also, volunteering your knowledge can become expected behaviour in a company. It can become expected by Management, and it can become expected by Peers. In fact, it needs to be an expectation from both (expectation from one and not the other sets up an unhealthy tension). Yes, knowledge can only be volunteered, but volunteering knowledge can become the expected behaviouor and become default behaviour. And in some companies, the expectation is so strong that you won't last long in the company, if you don't volunteer your knowledge. That's not the same as conscripting knowledge; its setting a corporate culture where not volunteering is not done.

The trouble with keeping KM too voluntary, without asking and without expecting, is that it becomes optional. And we are all too busy to bother with optional activity.

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