The adage "Knowledge is power" makes sense, especially in the context of hoarding in organisations where reward is based on individual action. In a past post I contrasted sharing behaviours in two law firms, the one that rewarded based on the performance of the group as a whole showed much more knowledge sharing, as it was crucial to rewards.
But I think the act of knowledge hoarding can also be a disadvantage to an individual regardless of their reward system.
Sure you may withhold some information "know what" about something. The fact that you controlled this information by withholding it, or perhaps controlling it’s flow may benefit you. So sometimes withholding facts benefits us, giving us an edge over others.
But it depends, sometimes sharing some breaking news, or finding something out can get you kudos. Especially in new social online environments where what you say is documented and timestamped…you can never be robbed of being an idea’s person, or robbed of your contributions, if you share them online.
Or in an ironic way you may not disclose to prevent hurting others, or just postpone sharing as letting others in too early may provide a headache.
This is all acceptable.
But the knowledge hoarding we often refer to in KM is about "know-how".
The fact that I have the know-how or skill in doing something makes me unique, and I don’t want to share my secrets otherwise I’ll lose my edge.
But is this really true.
I could tell you all I know about running online Communities of Practice (in fact I do both internally and externally), but just because you have all this accumulated information doesn’t mean you know how to do it.
Sure, if I blog about CoPs, my successor is going to have it easier as they can refer to a diary of my experience. Even better that it’s in the context of our company, rather than a generic text book. And even better that it’s in fragments, rather than a manual. Firstly a manual is daunting and you can’t ask it questions, secondly blog posts are raw experiences, whereas documents may leave out juicy peripheral information, and thirdly there is much better recall when capturing as it happens in a blog post.
But the fact that I share is not risky for me, hopefully it can build a reputation, get me noticed by people I don’t know, and get me other places I haven’t even thought of…as I do know stuff that’s beyond my job title
I didn’t see that coming
BUT, what could happen in times of trouble is that if the firm considers KM as the same as informal Information Management, they may decide that you are no longer unique now that you have shared, and can get someone else at a lower cost to follow your recipes and be just as proficient.
We know this is untrue, but even so, the firms ignorance coupled with your sharing is the reason you have been replaced…yes you are still unique, but you are left without a job.
Happy ending…the company cannot afford the learning curve, the new hire is hopeless, even with your book of spells, and realises informal information management is not the same as KM, and hire you back as a consultant for double the salary
Even if people are able to follow your thought logs and raw documented experience and do a good job as a result, they are not you, they are not the guru, they don’t have the reputation yet, they don’t have the contacts, they don’t have your charisma. I think it’s more complex than just know-how, people that are competent, amicable, demonstrate leadership and passion, are people you want working for you.
And regardless of all this, as I said in a recent post:
"When you share you are not just a dynamic performer, but you are also helping everyone else to be one as well, and that is reason for the company to actually hold on to you"
But keep in mind I do believe in an equilibrium, and that an element of knowledge secrecy may be needed, but just not as your main differentiator. Here’s the quote:
"Now I agree to not share all your intellectual capital, as we need to survive in a economy based on competition. But, it’s important not to just rely on this as your differentiator."
The fallacy of know-how recipes
Chefs share their recipes in books, but will reading one make me a chef. Even when they do demo’s where you can pickup contexual, peripheral and nuances like: what goes with what, acidic’s, timing, seasonal food, temperatures, etc…it still doesn’t mean I can do it, or that I’m a chef. As I said in my recent post, knowledge is not an accumulation of facts, it’s a way of being…Libraries vs Apprenticeship/Storytelling.
Instead I have to practice it and make lots of mistakes. It has to fit in with my style and mindset with the way I do things, etc…we learn iteratively and over time.
NOTE: This also holds at a group level or process level, where there isn’t a universal way, there is just ‘your way’ that encompasses your context (needs, challenges, obstacles, ability, politics, resources). Again we need to Iterate, refine, experiment, and learn.
Further to this I need to be able to flex my skill in assembling my know-how in applied and unexpected situations. Eg we have people over for dinner in an hour and I need to cook dinner with what I have…improvise.
You need to know the fundamentals, this way you can assemble fragements in new ways.
In this respect we can see personal knowledge fragments as ingredients, and when I’m faced with a situation I bring those ingredients together and assemble them into an outcome. The knowledge is in recalling ingredients for the context and assembling them (knowing how they work together and as a whole). In another context some of those ingredients will assemble with others, and also the assembly may be approached differently. To me, this is know-how!
If I read a book on how to do a sales deal in a particular industry, client engagement, how to make a million dollar in 6 months…it doesn’t mean it will happen. These people are not losing their edge due to people like me following their recipes and becoming millionaires. It won’t happen that everyone becomes a millionaire and knows how to become one, and teaches others…in turn the orignial millionaire is no longer unique.
You are not replaceable because you share know-how, in fact it gets you places.
Just don’t immaculately share everything, share in moderation until our current reward structures based on scientific management get more hip.