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Are you a knowledge hoarder?

Posted by Amy Wilson on December 21, 2010


Intentional or not, knowledge hoarding isn’t going to get you anywhere.

In the past, people have sought comfort (and possibly power) in their prized knowledge – dispensing it only on an as needed basis.  This worked in a world that operated on one-to-one expertise transactions.  But the world has changed, and, as John Hagel points out in his research (Power of Pull), we need to focus on knowledge flow.  Knowledge is not a specific piece of information, but rather an idea that builds momentum and evolves.  What makes things even trickier is that this knowledge is often unformed and difficult to express in the early stages. (John refers to this as tacit knowledge)

If we don’t really know what we know or how to express that knowledge, it makes it easy to hoard knowledge.  How do we share a spark of an idea, something seemingly unimportant, but could potentially change the business? From personal experience, I find this really hard.  First, I’m an introvert.  Second, I’m a contemplater.  Basically, I spend a lot of time in my head.  Meanwhile, I want to share.  I know I should share and I can appreciate the benefits that occur when I do share.  So how do I overcome the fear of sharing those unformed, ridiculous thoughts?  I build trusting relationships.  I find and build a network of people to whom I can express raw thoughts – people who will appreciate them, add to them, contradict them.  Even though I think rationally, I allow myself to connect emotionally – to open up to others.  Even so, I have to work hard and remind myself that it’s OK to share the silly thoughts, the inkling of an idea.  It’s not so scary.

I had the pleasure of attending a talk by John a couple of weeks ago at the TEDxBayAreaWomen event.  John – thank you for the great insight – I am now as big of a fan as Mark🙂  John’s key message was that we need trust-based relationships to create knowledge flow and you can’t build trust without expressing vulnerability.  Ultimately, I believe this kind of thinking will be just as important as, say, developing a growth mindset – in terms of building successful people and organizations in the future.

Picture source: Dilbert.com

10 Responses to “Are you a knowledge hoarder?”

  1. Terrific post, Amy! I wonder if the growth mindset is itself a big part of trusting relationships and expressing vulnerability, i.e. part of the admission that we are always in a state of becoming, so there’s always learning to do, spectacular failures, etc.

    Mark

  2. Bill Kutik said

    First, Amy, I hope you know that Scott Adams charges a fee for use of Dilbert strips even in corporate newsletters, presentations and blogs. If not, wait for that knock on your door unless Oracle has a site license.

    Second, your insights are wonderful but nearly all American corporations run on power: who’s got it, who doesn’t. And the first measure of power is how many people report to you; the second, budget; and the third is what you know.

    I think it will take a fundamental change in corporate culture for people to share knowledge the way you suggest. I, for one, will probably be in a nursing home.

    — The Grinch

  3. Meg Bear said

    I’m SOOO glad I didn’t comment until after Bill — I don’t often get such an opportunity.

    I would like to offer the Grinch a chance for his heart to grow three sizes [grin] and suggest that in the very near future having knowledge on your own will never be the same as having access to a broader collective knowledge.

    [trying to decide if this should be ended by a Lennon quote (you can say I’m a dreamer..) or a Dylan one (you’d better start swimming…).

    Cheers,
    -Meg/Polyanna

  4. Noons said

    mmmm…….
    Sound to me like “decisions by committee”. And all its evils.
    IOW: no one knows, but collectibvely we do.
    In which school is that gonna work as part of the curriculum?
    (cart before the horses, anyone?)😉

  5. Well, it turns out we were not separated at birth. 😉 I can’t help sharing raw thoughts – how should I know what I actually think before I say it?

  6. Excellent post Amy! I think you hit the nail on the head at the end of your post – the appearance of vulnerability is a key element to building trust in the workplace which in turn is the foundation to meaningful knowledge sharing.

    I have included your post in my Rainmaker ‘Fab Five’ blog picks of the week (http://www.maximizepossibility.com/employee_retention/2010/12/the-rainmaker-fab-five-blog-picks-of-the-week-2.html) to share your post with my readers and help them better facilitate the flow of knowledge in their organizations.

    Be well!

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