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;

So don’t incentivise knowledge sharing – incentivise knowledge seeking first. The sharing will follow.

View Original Source ( Here.

Why transferring knowledge through discussion is over 10 times more effective than written documents

Connecting people is far less efficient than Collecting while being far more effective – but how much more effective?

Knowledge can be transferred in two ways – by Connecting people so that they can discuss, and Collecting knowledge in written (explicit) form so others can find and read it (see blog posts on Connect and Collect). 

Connecting people is less efficient than transferring documented knowledge, but more effective.  We can never be sure about the absolute effectiveness of knowledge transfer without some good empirical studies, but there are 2 pointers towards the relative effectiveness of these two methods. These pointers are as follows;

First, the often repeated (and sometimes challenged) quote that “We Learn . .

  • 10% of what we read 
  • 20% of what we hear 
  • 30% of what we see 
  • 50% of what we see and hear 
  • 70% of what we discuss 
  • 80% of what we experience 
  • 95% of what we teach others.”

This is similar to Media Richness theory, which ranks media on the basis of it’s richness, with unaddressed documents as least rich, and face-to-face as most rich.

Second, David Snowden’s principle that

  • We always know more than we can say, and 
  • We will always say more than we can write down
Our assumptions
Let’s make two assumptions here, firstly that the percentages in the first list are correct, and secondly that we equate the “more than” in Snowden’s principle to “twice as much as.” OK, the fist assumption is highly dubious and the second is entirely arbitrary, but I want to see what the consequences are.

With these assumptions, the effectiveness of the Connect route (knowledge transfer through discussion) is as follows
  • I know (100%)
  • I say (50%) 
  • You learn through discussion (70%)
The effectiveness of transmission of knowledge through Connecting is therefore 35% (100% x 50% x 70%) provided there is discussion involved.

If you connect people through video (seeing) the effectiveness drops to 15%. Through hearing only (eg podcasts) it drops to 10%. The most effective way to transfer knowledge would be to work together, so the knowledge donor does not need to tell or write, they just have to show, while the knowledge receiver learns by experience. That way you minimise the filters.

The effectiveness of the Collect route for knowledge transfer through documents is as follows
  • I know (100%)
  • I write (50% x 50% = 25%)
  • You learn through reading (10%)
The effectiveness of transmission of knowledge through Connecting is therefore 2.5% (100% x 25% x 10%)
Transfer through discussion is 35% effective, transfer through documents is 2.5% effective. In the first case you can transfer a third of what you know, and in the second case you transfer one fortieth.

Therefore transferring knowledge through Collecting is 14 times less effective than transferring knowledge through Connecting people.

If we change the proportions in Snowden’s principle then we change this conclusion. If for example 

we always know 3 times more than we can say, and we will always say 3 times more than we can write down, Collecting becomes 21 times less effective, and so on.

I know all these figures are arbitrary and inexact, but what we are looking at here is some sort of estimate of relative efficiencies.

Note that this does not mean that Collecting knowledge has no place in Knowledge Management – quite the opposite. Despite being very ineffective, it is very efficient. Knowledge has only to be documented once, to be re-used one thousand times. Efficiency can trump effectiveness. However we can conclude the following
  • Because of these relative efficiencies, Knowledge should shared in explicit form (the Collect route) only when it is relatively simple and when it can be codified with minimum loss of context. 
  • Where efficiency is more important than effectiveness (i.e. broadcasting relatively straightforward knowledge to a large number of users), the Collect route is ideal.
  • The Collect route is also necessary when a Learner (a recipient for the knowledge) cannot be immediately identified, so no Connection is possible (see “speaking to the unknown user“).
  • Even then, it is worth “keeping the names with the knowledge” so that readers who need to know more detail can call the originator of the knowledge and have a discussion.
  • Where knowledge is more complex or more contextual, it should be shared through discussion (the Connect route) – for example through conversational processes such as Peer Assist.

Given that transfer of knowledge through documents is so ineffective, choose your KM strategy carefully!

View Original Source ( Here.

The two chambers of the KM heart

The heart of KM keeps knowledge flowing, and that heart has two chambers. 

Image from wikipedia

You can think of the organisation as a body, and knowledge flowing round the organisation like blood flows round a body.  But what is at the heart of KM? Is it knowledge sharing? Is it communities of practice? Is it knowledge creation?

The answer is that if there is a heart, it is not a single thing, but two chambers working together.  The two chambers are our old friends Connection and Collection; the Connect and Collect routes for knowledge transmission through Conversation and Content respectively. 


Connection refers to connecting people so that they can share knowledge between them; through discussion and conversation. 


Collection supports knowledge transfer through collecting documented knowledge, synthesising it, sharing it and making it findable.

  • In the Collect route, Knowledge is transferred through documentation (“Knowledge capture”), through organisation and synthesis of that documentation, and through connecting the user with the documents, through search or through push.
  • It can be supported by processes such as Retrospect, Lesson Learning, Interview, creation of Knowledge Assets, and Knowledge Synthesis. 
  • It can be supported by technologies such as portals, lessons management systems, search, semantic search, blogs and wikis

You Need both routes!

In the past, Connect and Collect have been positioned as opposites, for example in the rival Personalisation vs Codification strategies described by HBR.

However they are not opposites; they are two sides of the same heart.  The two different approaches address different sorts of knowledge, both of which exist in your organisation. 

  • The Collect route is ideal for relatively simple non-contextual knowledge which needs to reach a large audience, for knowledge that needs shelf life, for knowledge where no immediate user is available, and for knowledge which needs compiling and processing (such as lessons). 
  • The Connect route is necessary for complex knowledge, advanced knowledge, deep skills, and highly contextual knowledge. 
  • Collection without connection results in bland knowledge bases which answer basic questions, but often lack nuance and context.
  • Connection without collection preserves no corporate memory, and runs the risk of overloading the experts with basic questions, and of loss of knowledge as the experts retire.
In reality, the two chambers of the heart work together. 
People can unite around collections of knowledge, connected people can collect what they collectively know. Conversation is where content is born, and content is something to talk about. In combination, both Connect and Collect drive the engine that makes knowledge flow. 

Keep the two chambers of Connection and Collection at the heart of your Knowledge Management strategy  if you want to succeed!

View Original Source ( Here.

The four contexts for Knowledge Transfer

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for knowledge transfer, because not every transfer context is the same.  However we can look at four main classes or types of knowledge transfer, by looking at the dimensions of TIME and LOCATION.

There are other dimensions as well, such as whether the transfer is Expert/Expert, Expert/Novice etc, but let’s stick with 2 dimensions at a time, as that helps build a Boston Square, as shown here. 
This particular Boston Square, based on location and time, allows us to identify 4 contexts for knowledge transfer, described below. 

OTJ (On The Job) Transfer

The transfer of knowledge between people or teams who are co-located – doing the same sort of work at the same time in the same place – can be done on the job. This is the sort of context you see within a project team. The knowledge does not need to be documented in order to be transferred, and because everyone is working with the knowledge every day, then your focus should be more on conversations about knowledge rather than building knowledge bases. Knowledge can be transferred through embedding processes like mentoring, coaching, and particularly After Action Reviews, as well as through numerous informal conversations. 

Serial transfer

The transfer of knowledge within a series of projects in the same location, one after the other (and often with the same team) is called serial transfer. Much serial transfer can be accomplished by the transfer of project plans, designs, basis of design documents, and so on, as well as by transferring lessons learned, and transferring core team members. Project knowledge handover meetings can also be useful – sometimes known as baton-passing. The focus here is less on conversation, and more on transfer and continuous improvement of artefacts. This can results in excellent examples of steep learning curves.

Knowledge transfer between individuals working in the same place but at different times is accomplished by personal knowledge handover – a planned set of conversations, and compilation of a set of key documents, contacts, lessons and tips and hints. This can be part of a Knowledge Retention Strategy.

Parallel transfer

The transfer of knowledge between a series of projects running simultaneously but in different locations, or between many individuals doing the same work in different parts of the business, is called parallel transfer. This can rely heavily on face-to-face activities such as peer assist, and knowledge visits, as well as real-time transfer of knowledge through communities of practice, online forums and enterprise social media. Because operations are simultaneous and continuous, much knowledge can remain tacit, and the focus is on conversation rather than content.

Far Transfer

The transfer of knowledge between projects running in different times and different places, or from person to person separated by time and distance, is called far transfer (a term coined by Nancy Dixon). Far transfer cannot rely on real-time conversations, or on simply transferring project plans, as the next project may take place in a completely different country in several years time. Knowledge will need to be transferred in written form as a knowledge asset, or as a series of Lessons Learned. Far Transfer relies on captured knowledge, the development of knowledge assets, and careful attention to well written and easily findable advisory and instructional content.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to Knowledge Transfer; it depends on the specific context, which may  be one of the four described here. 

View Original Source ( Here.

Why "Knowledge Sharing" doesn’t work as an alternative title for KM

Many people prefer to use the term “Knowledge Sharing” instead of “Knowledge Management”. However as a synonym “Knowledge Sharing” is inadequate and misleading. 

Sharing is caring
Sharing is Caring by Fabian Rosdalen on Flickr

  • Tags

  • Recent Posts