Our organisations are awash in information. But it seems as though we’re just filing it away – instead of using it to create and share knowledge.
I just took a long, accidental stroll down memory lane, courtesy of one of my company’s file servers.
Let me explain. I needed a very specific report and accessed one of our internal systems to locate it. After a few minutes of searching, I was certain I’d found the report… until I discovered another, different version of it. And then another. And yet another.
After an hour of looking, I gave up. I never found what I needed.
All of which led me to a realization: We obviously do a great job of churning out information in our organizations, but are we creating knowledge?
The distinction is important. Information by itself is useless. It’s only when we pair information with the multiple perspectives of education, experience and most importantly, human interaction, that we transform it into knowledge. That knowledge, and the creation of it, is the lifeblood of today’s organizations.
We also need to understand that knowledge isn’t just an entity. It’s a process that is driven by human interactions. In the words of Japanese knowledge-management guru, Ikujiro Nonaka: “To date we have treated knowledge as substance. Rather than substance we should understand knowledge as process, created and used in relation with the knowledge of other human beings who exist in relation to others.”
In addition, knowledge is always changing. Or as Greek philosopher Heraclitus notes, “We never step in the same river twice.” As knowledge continually evolves based on the interactions, reflections and practices of the people who process it, it takes on a short shelf life.
If not shared, knowledge stagnates and withers away, becoming no more useful than obsolete technology or an empty factory. Simply put, sharing knowledge isn’t just important to the health and well-being of our organisations; it’s vital.
And that’s where we struggle….
But if knowledge is so critical, why don’t we treat it as a process instead of locking it down in databases? And why is there an almost ingrained resistance to establish knowledge-sharing practices at the corporate level?
Several reasons – and all misguided. For starters, our historically hierarchical organizational structures don’t encourage or make it easy to share what we know. And in the case of some employees, knowledge represents power and is thus to be shared only in exchange for something equally valuable.
Plus we lack the infrastructure to efficiently share knowledge and the information that underlies it. Both are scattered throughout the workplace – in dusty filing cabinets, databases, in our heads, with few reliable means of retrieving or disseminating either. According to consulting firm McKinsey & Co., we spend 19% of our time searching for information. That’s one full day a week!
So how do we collaborate to create and share knowledge efficiently? The answer lies in several themes we’ve discussed repeatedly in this blog: Empowering employees, organizing work efficiently and taking advantage of the right technologies.
Empowering and organising
The key to creating knowledge is through empowering people. Knowledge-creation begins when workers are engaged in their jobs and committed to the organisation and its goals.
Less hoarding, more sharing
We need to encourage and reward workers for sharing knowledge while discouraging them from hoarding it. Employees should understand that sharing is in their personal best interest because the more knowledge that is shared, the more that is created.
Employing the right tools for the job
We have plenty of technologies for sharing information and knowledge, but we need to select the right ones for the job. We should focus on open collaboration forums that promote conversation and draw additional workers, with varying viewpoints, into the conversation.
Our organisations are only as good as the knowledge we create and share. So let’s commit ourselves to creating and sharing plenty of it.
And the report I was looking for? It’s still out there somewhere.
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