In my previous post What is Knowledge Sharing? I wanted to challenge the assumption that all knowledge sharing is created equal. From a KM point of view we need to be more specific about what kinds of knowledge we are interested in, how it needs to be shared, and by what means.
There’s another common assumption in the knowledge sharing literature that I think needs to be challenged, and that is that knowledge sharing is essentially an engineering problem somehow associated with motivation. It’s an input/output problem. If you can understand the levers of motivation, you can design a system that will create the right input, and hey presto, out will come the desired knowledge sharing.
Now I’m sure it’s perfectly true that motivation matters in many cases, but I can think of lots of instances where knowledge sharing is not obviously instrumental and cannot be said to have motives driving it. Here are a few examples I can think of:
Inadvertent knowledge sharing – I let something slip by accident (I’m not a Freudian, things CAN happen by accident!)
Habit - it’s just something I’m used to doing, maybe I had a motive for starting, twenty years ago, now I don’t think about it
Copying – I see other people doing it, so I do the same (primates and monkeys have observation and emulation practices built into their genes)
Experimentation – I try it out because I’m curious about the consequences, I don’t have to have any kind of theory
Reflex – I see an obvious knowledge gap so I fill it instinctively, just like termites will instinctively start working on the opposite side of a nest chamber from its companion
Whim – I just feel like it, maybe I’m in a good mood today
I think we can probably get a richer account of what drives knowledge sharing if we look at a spectrum something like this:
The model assumes that knowledge sharing can be examined from different levels of generality. At the most abstract level, it’s useful to look at the conditions in which knowledge sharing can occur (eg knowledge asymmetry, collocation of parties). Next up, we look at non-intentional causes for knowledge sharing (eg accidental, reflexive, habitual). The model also assumes there’s a possibility where you can explain a knowledge sharing act which is intentional but where analysis of motives and instrumentality are just not interesting or useful (eg I just felt like it, random acts of kindness, whim, it’s just part of who I am). Finally we get to areas where motives count.
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