Forget knowledge sharing, let’s encourage knowledge seeking instead
People often ask us “how do we incentivise knowledge sharing?” I often answer “don’t bother. Incentivise knowledge seeking and re-use instead”.
I give this answer, because knowledge sharing in itself achieves nothing. Knowledge needs to be sought and re-used before any value has been added, and re-use is often a far bigger barrier than knowledge sharing. The Not Invented Here syndrome is far more prevalent than Knowledge Hoarding.
As an analogue, think of a driver in a car in a strange city, looking for a building which is not on the satnav. They need knowledge, people on the sidewalk have the knowledge, but why doesn’t the knowledge reach the driver? It’s usually not because people won’t share, but because the driver doesn’t ask.
Knowledge needs supply and demand – sharing is the supply, seeking and re-use is the demand. Supply without demand devalues a commodity. Demand without supply increases a commodities value. Supply and demand need to be in balance, but the best way to kick off a market is to stimulate demand.
Without an appetite for knowledge re-use, knowledge sharing can actually be counter-productive, resulting in the feeling of the “knowledge firehose”. Better to incentivise knowledge seeking first then knowledge sharing later, create the appetite for knowledge before you create the access, and create the demand before you create the supply.
There will naturally be SOME supply already, as there are people who naturally like to publish. They like to share, they like to write, they were given two ears, one mouth and ten fingers and use them in that proportion. If you create the demand and create the channel, the supply will follow. As David Snowden pointed out,
“In the context of real need few people will withhold their knowledge. A genuine request for help is not often refused unless there is literally no time or a previous history of distrust. On the other hand ask people to codify all that they know in advance of a contextual enquiry and it will be refused (in practice its impossible anyway). Linking and connecting people is more important than storing their artifacts”.
Create the need, connect the people, and the sharing will follow.
And how do you create the need for knowledge? There are a number of ways;
- Managers create a high performance culture, where people are eager to “push the envelope”
- Managers ask the two questions that drive KM behaviour, emphasising the first
- Managers set people challenges that they don’t know how to solve using just their own knowledge