“Human beings, are blessed with a language, a system of communication so powerful that we can share what we´ve learned so that it can accumulate in the collective memory. It can outlast the individuals who acquired that knowledge and it can be passed on from generation to generation”. In an engaging talk, David Christian narrates the history of the universe in an astonishing 18 minutes. An important lesson from David´s talk is the role of knowledge transfer in human evolution. (Watch´s David´s talk here)
David suggests that human evolution is product of indirect knowledge transfer. Information exchange between cells, passed on through DNA to generate a learning process, explains why we are born with some natural instincts and react to certain stimulus without actually being aware of it. Now, I am not a psychologist or scientist so I do not pretend to form or sustain any hypothesis. However, I believe it´s important to empathize one point regarding knowledge sharing: It´s part of who we are. It´s in our DNA. The act of knowledge sharing is what has allowed us to survive and evolve collectively, whether it has being consciously or unconsciously, the important thing is that it got us here.
However, in some organizations the process doesn’t come so naturally. CEOs struggle to find ways to facilitate strategic knowledge transfer and “reinventing the wheel” seems to be a common problem. Perhaps there is a barrier because we still assume that knowledge is power and when we give it away we lose certain “benefits”. Hoarding knowledge is still a topic that needs to be addressed. I remember the other day when I had the chance to speak to an important CEO in the automotive industry. He told me that his team had managed to capture an excellent lesson learned and that he wanted to share it with other teams so that they could learn from it. However, the lesson did not contain sufficient information so it could not be applied by the other teams. When he asked the team to keep working on the lesson, they replied saying that he was looking to capture the “essence of their knowledge” and that they would not part from it. Plenty of more examples like this exist out there.
A common answer to the problem nowadays seems to be SharePoint-like platforms, i.e technology. Paul Arden stated, “The problem with hoarding is that you end up living off your reserves- Eventually we will become stale(…) this forces you to look, to be aware, to replenish”. I think this statement is powerful because it relates to motivation. If we are looking for quality knowledge sharing then we need to work directly with people, learn about their motivation towards knowledge sharing, understand their needs and help them unleash the power of their ideas. Technology will create the bridge but it won’t guarantee that what comes out at the other end is what we are looking for.
Understanding human motivation towards knowledge sharing is vital. In fact, this is why the “global knowledge management community project” was launched. Testimonies are being collected from people all around the world and you can find them in the project´s Facebook page. Up to now hundreds of contributions have been received. It´s been a real joy to have received so many testimonies and I would like to encourage you to share your testimony as well. I personally believe that if we are able to break the paradigm of knowledge sharing collective memory could be enhanced and we would be able to evolve much faster. Just imagine people discussing a possible cure for cancer or any other terminal disease without any restrictions. Just with the plain conviction that they are contributing in making a world a better place.