And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." - Anaïs Nin.
Nancy White posted recently On Hoarding and Knowledge Sharing, in which she cites a recent study that concludes that "silence, not sharing is the norm". Nancy then asks "why do you share or not share your knowledge?" It got me thinking...
First of all, I don't think we have an inbuilt desire to withhold knowledge. In fact given the opportunity, knowledge sharing is something we positively enjoy. Who can say that we have never got a buzz from being able to help another? Even the most cynical and hard-faced egomaniacs tend to soften a little in the face of a genuine plea for help and advice.
It's natural to share and collaborate. What's more, it's hardwired into our psyche - it has been (and still is) a means of survival. We even invented language to help us do this.
So why then are people so reticent to share?
Unfortunately we have come to associate our ideas and beliefs with who we are as people, - we tend to judge each other based on our perception of their ideas. For many, expressing 'what we think' is to leave our carefully nurtured self-concepts open to scrutiny. This makes knowledge sharing a risky business outside of the circle of people that we feel safe with.
It's unreasonable to be expected to share ideas and knowledge in an environment that is judgmental, competitive or manipulative (however subtle - being 'rewarded' for knowledge sharing, for example) because the risk/rewards just don't stack up.. there's simply no pay off. Why should we put our reputation and popularity at stake? We share when it's in our interest to do so... when it's safe and fun, when there's a benefit for us, when we want to... not when someone else wants us to. People object to being required or 'motivated' to do what is a very naturally human activity and, quite understandably, become uncooperative in the face of outside persuasion.
To me, this issue of motivation is the key to knowledge sharing and the issue that leaders and managers need to grasp. The success or failure of knowledge management initiatives seems to have very little to do with the tools or the implementation process, but a lot to do with the reasons they are there in the first place.
If the perceived reasons for sharing knowledge is to comply to some others directive (no matter how reasoned the argument for the benefits is) or to feather someone else's nest, then at best people pay lip service to it. But if we are being given tools that help us connect and collaborate with one another directly, allow us to express ourselves and help each other more easily, then we tend to embrace them. This issue of motivation can never be faked - insincerity can be smelt a mile away.
However repressed, we all share the need for meaning, connection and growth. For the first time ever we have accessible technology tools (like weblogs) to enable the expression and realisation of these deep seated needs. There is a lot of talk on the web of the transformative effects that these new social tools can bring to marketing and markets, but to me the biggest opportunities lie in how can run our organisations - how we can turn them about-face and redesign them to serve our deepest needs instead of a some 'corporate need'. We can use them to bring life, learning and joy back into our work. I feel sure that the enterprises that embrace this will become the hot beds for great talent in the 21st century.
For this to happen we need to hand control to the users so they are free to self organise. The hurdle and challenge for leaders is this lack of control. When the knowledge has no corporate home but is free to flow to where its most needed it's also free to flow out of the back door. It takes trust. Or perhaps it will take pain.. the pain of being stuck in the old ways with your best people walking away to somewhere they can breath more easily and express their soul.
The fears of those stuck in the old school, looking on, are only imaginary. Organisations become strong and stable when there is a tangible felt-sense of 'who we are' and 'what we stand for'. This meaning can never come from a corporate missive or be taught. It is something that is co-created and becomes stronger as it is shared. Whilst ever it is something that is generated 'elsewhere' it remains just a concept, but as soon as people are able to come together to discover what is important to them, to test it and augment it.. then it becomes real and valuable - something that we feel a part of and will uphold.
At the end of the day, trying to play it safe will probably be the riskiest option of all.
I imagine that the times ahead will be the most frustrating and yet exhilarating for people like Nancy White, Johnnie Moore , Euan Semple and Sig Rinde who are the forefront of bringing about this new way of working, of building truly human enterprises.
Thanks to Evelyn Rodriguez for the lovely quote.