Knowledge hoarders are some of the most frustrating people to work with. Their resistance to sharing knowledge, often because they fear losing their advantage, is completely backwards.
Not only does it hamper the ability for others to learn and grow, it stands in the way of their organization’s success. It dulls their competitive edge.
In this article, we explore the value of knowledge and explain why it should be shared generously across an organization.
What’s the difference between knowledge and information?
To understand the importance of knowledge sharing, we have to understand the importance of knowledge itself and how it differs from information.
“A more useful definition of knowledge is that it is about know-how and know-why. A metaphor is that of a cake. An analysis of its molecular constituents is data—for most purposes not very useful—you may not even be able to tell it were a cake. A list of ingredients is information—more useful—an experienced cook could probably make the cake—the data has been given context. The recipe though would be knowledge—written knowledge—explicit knowledge—it tells you how-to make the cake. An inexperienced cook however, even with the recipe might not make a good cake. A person, though, with relevant knowledge, experience, and skill—knowledge in their heads—not easily written down—tacit knowledge—would almost certainly make an excellent cake from the recipe.”
With this metaphor, it’s a little easier to understand what constitutes knowledge. It’s essentially an enhanced version of information; information that’s been contextualized and combined with experience, intuition, creativity, and more.
The value of knowledge
With David’s analogy, it’s also easier to see the value of knowledge. It gives you the ability to make good use of the information on hand, enabling you to disseminate it accurately and use it wisely.
Knowledge also adds a robustness to your abilities, allowing you to both create and innovate. For example, if you wanted to make a cake but were missing an ingredient, you'd be able to make-do with a substitute ingredient if you knew why that ingredient was being used in first place.
“In fact know-why is often more important than know-how as it allows you to be creative—to fall back on principles—to re-invent your know-how.” - David Gurteen
With the power of knowledge, an employee is more agile and better able to deal with unforeseen circumstances.
The importance of knowledge sharing
When you understand the value of knowledge, the importance of knowledge sharing becomes a little clearer. Here are just a few reasons it’s considered vital for a successful organization:
1. Build collective knowledge
The collective knowledge of a company can be enormous, however it has limited value unless the knowledge is shared. It’s always encouraging when an individual cracks a problem or improves a process. However, if that same problem is plaguing an entire team and the knowledge isn’t shared, the success is limited.
In his academic paper on the importance of knowledge sharing, Faizuniah Pangil wrote:
“Organizations are like seas of knowledge. There is no limit to the amount of knowledge that an organization has. However, where the issue of knowledge sharing is concerned, it is most important that employees share their job-related knowledge with each other, so that they will be able to perform their job better and eventually lead to higher organizational performance."
2. Retain knowledge
Today’s workforce is increasingly transient, often moving from one job to the next every few years. If these employees don’t effectively knowledge share at work, their explicit and tacit knowledge will leave the company when they do.
Add to this the large number of baby boomers who are currently reaching retirement age. These individuals are often long-standing employees and executives, with a wealth of irreplaceable knowledge. If this resides only within their own minds, an organization’s collective knowledge will be crippled by their departure.
3. Increase innovation
As indicated in David Gurteen’s “know-why” principle, the more knowledgeable individuals are, the more they’ll be able to innovate. The value of this cannot be overlooked in today’s fast-paced business world. A knowledgeable, innovative, and nimble team will quickly separate themselves from the pack.
4. Stay abreast of changes
As humankind makes new developments and discoveries, old processes and approaches often become redundant. New techniques replace old ones and knowledge that was once pertinent becomes irrelevant. In this way, a lot of knowledge has a shelf-life. To stay in the game, organizations and individuals need to make the most of the knowledge they have—sharing and absorbing it readily.
5. Help employees feel valued
Creating an environment where knowledge sharing is encouraged helps individuals feel valued and heard. When a person is able to give back and contribute to collective knowledge, they can see how their work is truly making a difference. By giving people a stake in the company in this way, not only do you increase their investment in the collective knowledge and improve employee engagement, you make them feel more appreciated as an individual.
The importance of knowledge sharing shouldn’t go unnoticed. It’s essential for organizations that want to stay competitive in the market and individuals who want to expand their skillset. Encourage a culture of knowledge sharing and reap the rewards it delivers!