Barriers can be overcome, if understood
Larry Chait, a knowledge management colleague in the Boston area, published a chapter on knowledge sharing in the 2004 compilation, Knowledge Management in Practice: Connections and Context from ASIST. He has a copy of his chapter Sharing Knowledge: Problems, Root Causes and Solutions (pdf) on his website, and I found it a worthwhile read. It certainly aligns with my thinking and experience. He starts with the common misconception that "knowledge is power" and quickly transforms it:
The true value of knowledge can only be achieved and realized when knowledge is shared among people. It is through such sharing that improvements are made, new ideas are generated, and innovations occur.
I particularly latched onto the section on barriers. Larry breaks the barriers into Personal (no time, don't know who to call, lack of a network, concern about correct use of the knowledge, trust); Organizational (alignment with goals, it's yet another initiative, lack of shared values, work stifles sharing, poor communication infrastructure, competitive environment, knowledge is power); and Technological (tools fail to support sharing, people don't know how to use existing tools). You could probably come up with other barriers from your own experiences. I thought of more just reading through Larry's lists.
There are at least two paths to drive down, once you articulate the barriers in your organization. You could try to "remove" the barriers directly. Some of these problems will respond to that approach fairly quickly. But a step back for a second shows that many of these barriers are there for deeper reasons, and simply "fixing" the barrier will not change the deeper reasoning behind its existence in the first place. The barriers are merely the outward signs of these deeper reasons. But they are great places to start digging into the question of "why isn't this working as we expected / designed?" And this is where Larry goes with the article, discussing a methodology he has developed with Dr. Joan Lancourt. I'd argue that any useful method would make sense - for example, I'm keen on the ideas of Theory of Constraints and the Current Reality Tree.
[Photo: "Great Barrier Reef, Cairns, Australia" by Electric Images]
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