Receiving knowledge

The March/April 2002 issue of Ivey Business Journal had a piece by Nancy Dixon, The Neglected Receiver of Knowledge Sharing:

Knowledge sharing allows teams and individuals to more quickly develop solutions to difficult problems, reduce costly duplication of effort, and create new, innovative solutions through collaboration. But, as this former George Washington University professor turned academic points out, most knowledge sharing practices neglect the group or individual who will receive and hopes to leverage the knowledge. Written to help the reader empathize with and understand the particular needs of the knowledge sharer, this article suggests what organizations and managers can do to support the particular needs of the other, important component of the knowledge equation, the knowledge receiver.

Dixon presents a helpful perspective to the concept of knowledge sharing, and one that I've heard in pieces previously*.  Yes, the person with knowledge has to be willing and able to share that knowledge.  But the person seeking the knowledge has to be able to assimilate the knowledge as well.  The receiver must be able to relate her own experience and knowledge to that of the giver.  In conversation, this becomes a give-and-take as both sides get a better understanding of the original question and the underlying assumptions it entails.  Along with this give-and-take, the receiver must evaluate the credibility of the giver, and finally evaluate whether the new knowledge actually fits the original situation.

This discussion makes it clearer why best practice databases have such a hard time of it in the KM community**.  It's so difficult to do a good job of translating directly from one person to another.  It's even more difficult when the expert writes things down, and the knowledge seeker can only read.  The need for common context and common language is even more critical.  Towards the end of the piece, Dixon reiterates this issue:

In some organizations, there is an expectation that knowledge transfer will occur primarily through technology. But the reality is that transferring complex knowledge requires face-to-face conversations rather than just reading an e-mail or examining an item in a database. Granted, skills registries can help locate people, and e-mail and phone calls can confirm whether the identified person might be useful. But these tools are ineffective for helping the receiver build the internal web of relationships between ideas that incorporate what others know.

This article was referenced in the current AOK STAR Series discussion on expertise locator systems with Garry Cullen and Melissie Rumizen.  The discussion of this topic has been interwoven with other aspects of getting people communicating and some of the technical aspects of doing this for large organizations.  Interestingly, Nancy Dixon was the STAR leader back in June 2003 on the topic of Creation and Reuse of Project Knowledge.

* I've touched on knowledge sharing a few times in the past.

** I've touched on best practices a few times over the past few years.  And the commenters have provided useful insights as well.

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