Sharing knowledge and collaborating are fundamental aspects of social business. Key to the success of any of these kind of projects is overcoming the belief that we benefit from hoarding knowledge. In an organizational context, we can see this with companies restricting access to intellectual property, and there have been numerous studies showing how our organizations can gain commercially from opening up their IP.
Does the same apply to us as individuals? A new paper from INSEAD suggests the answer is an overwhelming yes. The research saw the application of a knowledge management system explored within a strategy consulting company. The study saw some 250 or so of the consultants within the company tracked to gauge their usage of the application. They could see both the kind of information accessed by each consultant, whether it was tacit or explicit, and could compare this with the career progression of each consultant.
The study was quite unanimous in its finding – sharing knowledge was a big factor in career progression. This was especially so for those in junior and mid-level positions, with the tacit, social knowledge especially useful because in addition to the knowledge one would gain, it would also enable those people to build an excellent network of contacts within the firm.
The knowledge management system played a key role in that process because it was the defacto conduit that enabled people to hit a colleague up for help, regardless of their rank or status. It also made approaching high ranking people a lot more accessible.
This network creation aspect of knowledge sharing also allowed younger employees to strike up mentorship style relationships with their more experienced colleagues. So the company as a whole would benefit not only from the increase in knowledge flowing throughout the company, but also from the informal guidance and support offered.
Interestingly, and somewhat sadly, there were fewer apparent benefits for more senior consultants. The researchers suggest this is probably because those at the top of the tree are already established and therefore rely more on their own knowledge than that of others. Whilst that is understandable, it’s far from an ideal situation, with the pace of change necessitating constant learning, whatever your level of experience.
Suffice to say, just buying a piece of software isn’t likely to be sufficient in itself for this magic to happen, and this is a topic I’ve covered extensively on the blog over the past few years, and it’s something that the research re-affirms. It also provides further evidence that sharing knowledge is undoubtedly good for your career.