+ Creating a Knowledge Sharing Culture
First published in Knowledge Management Magazine, Volume 2, Issue 5, February 1999
It is often said that it is essential to create a "Knowledge Sharing Culture" as part of a Knowledge Management initiative. An isolated knowledge management programme looked after by a privileged few is a paradox in itself and will not survive for long. Only effective collaboration and communication which spans across the whole company structure will give knowledge management the boost it really needs. In order to enrich a company’s current culture David Gurteen believes that change must start at the individual. Every employee has a sphere of influence along with their own individual knowledge, and this is where he believes a knowledge sharing culture can begin.
Creating a Knowledge Sharing Culture
Culture, according to Vijay Sathe is “the set of important understandings (often unstated) that members of a community share in common.” These shared understandings consist of our norms, values, attitudes, beliefs and ‘paradigms’.
Another definition given in Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary – “culture is the integrated pattern of human behavior that includes thought, speech, action, and artifacts and depends on man’s capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations.” This second definition is an exciting one as increasing our capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge is one of the prime aims of Knowledge Management.
The concept of the paradigm is an extremely important one in understanding culture. A paradigm is a way of thinking, perceiving, communicating or viewing the world. It is often called a worldview or a mindset. The important point about a paradigm is that it is subconscious. We are not aware of our own paradigms. Its a rather like thinking the world is colored red – unaware that we are wearing rose tinted contact lenses. It is a frequently misunderstood and misused word. When someone says "we need a new paradigm for this." It is a misuse of the word. All they are saying is "we need a new approach or we need a new way of looking at things".
Organizational culture can be thought of as a relatively rigid tacit infrastructure of ideas that shape not only our thinking but also our behavior and perception of our business environment. It effectively establishes a set of guidelines by which members of an organization work and how those organizations are structured. It is rigid mainly due to our paradigms – we don’t recognize why we do so much of what we do. Also we tend to resist change rather than embrace it.
Knowledge and Information
Knowledge is often seen as a rich form of information. This differentiation however is not terribly helpful. A more useful definition of knowledge is that it is about know-how and know-why. A metaphor is that of a cake. An analysis of its molecular constituents is data – for most purposes not very useful – you may not even be able to tell it were a cake. A list of ingredients is information – more useful – an experienced cook could probably make the cake – the data has been given context. The recipe though would be knowledge – written knowledge - explicit knowledge – it tells you how-to make the cake. An inexperienced cook however, even with the recipe might not make a good cake. A person, though, with relevant knowledge, experience, and skill – knowledge in their heads - not easily written down - tacit knowledge – would almost certainly make an excellent cake from the recipe.
It is important to note that to make knowledge productive you need information. Knowing how to make a cake is not sufficient – you need the list of ingredients. And to decide what cake to make - you need information – the tastes of the consumers of the cake.
Know-why is also important. If an ingredient of the cake was unavailable – knowing the purpose of that ingredient might help a knowledgeable cook substitute an alternative. In fact know-why is often more important than know-how as it allows you to be creative - to fall back on principles – to re-invent your know-how.
There are many definitions of Knowledge Management. A common definition is ‘The collection of processes that govern the creation, dissemination, and leveraging of knowledge to fulfill organizational objectives.’
Another definition defines Knowledge Management as it is an emerging set of principles, processes, organizational structures, and technology applications that help people share and leverage their knowledge to meet their business objectives.”
This puts focus and responsibility on the individual – the knowledge worker - and on the holistic nature of knowledge management. Also critically it is about meeting business objectives. Knowledge Management is not an end in its self. It is also fundamentally about sharing knowledge and putting that knowledIntranet or Extra-net allows you to work collaboratively with anyone anywhere in the world to achieve your objectives.