Barriers to knowledge sharing

Dave Pollard has another in depth tome in yesterday's The Psychology of Information, or Why We Don't Share Stuff

Lately I've come to the realization that the problem of under-use and misuse of information has little to do with technology or 'knowledge management' and a great deal to do with human nature and culture.

  1. Bad news rarely travels upwards in organizations
  2. People share information generously peer-to-peer, but begrudgingly upwards, and sparingly downwards in organizational hierarchies
  3. People find it easier and more satisfying to reinvent the wheel
  4. People only accept and internalize information that fits with their mental models and frames
  5. People cannot readily differentiate useful information from useless information
  6. The true cost of acquiring information and the cost of not knowing are both greatly underestimated in most organizations
  7. People know more than they can tell, and tell more than they can write down
  8. People can internalize information presented graphically more easily and fully than information presented as text, and understand information conveyed through stories better than information presented analytically
  9. Most people want their friends, and even people they don't know, to succeed, and people they dislike to fail and this has a bearing on their information-sharing behaviour
  10. People are averse to sharing information orally, and even more averse to sharing it in written form, if they perceive any risk of it being misused or misinterpreted
  11. People are generally reluctant to admit they don't know, or don't understand, something
  12. People don't take care of shared information resources
  13. In some organizations, internal competition mitigates against open sharing of information
  14. Some modest people underestimate the value of what they know
  15. We all learn differently
  16. Rewards for sharing knowledge don't work

I've left off Dave's detailed comments about each of these, so you will need to read the details at the source.  This list is a much more extensive version of one from Carol Kinsey Goman that I found back in July: Five reasons for not sharing.  I also like that Dave recognizes that there may be some core human elements around why knowledge sharing is so difficult.  And he provides a list of potentially helpful workarounds that aren't technology fixes to the problem -- particularly important, since the problem is human, not technical

Item #1 and #2 hooked me.  I've been reading Christensen's The Innovator's Solution, and he talks about the struggles that people have for sharing good ideas (innovations) within organizations.  His argument goes that "middle managers" are set up to be the gatekeepers and that they have conflicting needs for passing along ideas for the good of the corporation but also managing their own careers.  The career-minded manager, who tends to change positions frequently, tends to promote ideas that will show results within their tenure.  Similarly, on the bad news side of things, people don't want to be the ones passing along bad news, either upwards or downwards. 

Item #3 hits close to home.  I'm one of those that love to tweak and try new things, just because.  Frequently, I learn along the way.  But it also ends up making some activities take far longer than they should. 

I'm not sure I agree with #5.  This is a version of information overload, but I've always thought that people do a fairly good job of remembering what is important.  The twist is that they remember what is important to them, rather than necessarily remembering what is important to the overall objectives of a business.

I wonder if the conflict represented by this and similar lists is that of competing needs.  Individuals within the organization have the needs of recognition, job security, importance, accomplishment, etc.  And the corporation has the needs of growth, speed, good performance, etc.  These needs end up competing for attention in the people in the organization, and I suspect, end up creating situations where knowledge sharing doesn't appear to fit.

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