Knowledge Transfer as Wisdom Sharing

 -  2/26/11

Legacy expertise is in danger of disappearing. By recasting the problem as wisdom sharing instead of knowledge transfer, energy and support can go to the people who will ensure an organization thrives in the future.

Why haven’t two decades of sustained knowledge-sharing efforts been more successful? Databases, wikis, knowledge nodes, expert resource centers, task forces and communities of practice abound. Yet there is still hand-wringing. There is something unsatisfying about the progress — or lack of it — in knowledge sharing.

Organizations have ignored the human elements that prevent people from approaching wisdom sharing from an abundance model. All too often an organization’s experts are pushed into scarcity mode. Some are blocked from wisdom sharing by a lack of time or priorities. Others fear losing their status as the in-the-know, go-to guy or gal. In this economic environment, a reluctance to share may be rooted in a fear of redundancy: “If I tell them what I know, they won’t need me.”

Edna Pasher, a consultant in the field of knowledge management for 30 years, said she believes organizations need to cope with the fear of sharing directly, study barriers and address them openly to create a culture that drives knowledge sharing.

This scarcity mindset, no matter the reason, blocks the sharing of information. Even the term “knowledge transfer” clouds the issue because it sounds and feels transactional — as if knowledge is a commodity instead of the foundation of human wisdom when wrapped with experience. Sharing experience and wisdom is a completely voluntary activity, yet it’s one of the most neglected aspects of organizational initiatives around knowledge transfer.

“The fundamental thing to remember about knowledge is that it is shared freely,” said Tony Driscoll, professor of the practice of business administration at Duke University. “Knowledge management is an oxymoron; it cannot be managed.” Keeping the voluntary aspect of sharing top of mind will serve organizations well in reducing fear and launching successful initiatives.

The world’s economic woes have provided organizations with another shot at knowledge sharing, as people who are eligible for retirement continue to work. This second chance will pay off only if managers create high-engagement work environments and their departments become incubators for storytelling, informal insight sharing and tribal wisdom. Rightly so, an increasing number of at-risk industries, such as manufacturing, education, space and defense, and utilities, are putting knowledge sharing front and center in their talent management agendas. Further, leaders everywhere need to support the tenet that wisdom should be shared more fluidly at work. Organizations hungry for cost-effective, practical solutions can select those that work best and deliver the most value and wisdom in their cultures.

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