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Knowledge sharing principles

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —October 31, 2007
Filed in Strategy

I’m currently helping a client develop their knowledge strategy. We’ve decided to include knowledge sharing principles. I believe principles should be clear, unambiguous and emphatic and everyone should know whether they are adhering to the principles or not. More importantly the organisation should decide together what should happen when the principles are transgressed. Are there any biggies I’ve missed? I probably should keep it to 7 or so.

  • We will share what we know with our colleagues.
  • We will take time to help our colleagues learn
  • We will encourage open and rigorous dialogue, discuss and exploring assumptions, and speak our mind respectfully.
  • We shall see if what we are about to embark on has been done before rather than create things from scratch.
  • We will borrow ideas shamelessly (with attribution) and not suffer the ‘not invented here’ syndrome.
  • We will take time to learn from our successes and failures.
  • We will promote cooperation, trust and active participation in project teams, task forces and networks.
  • We shall actively look outside our discipline in search of ideas, concepts and approaches that can be adapted and applied to meet our goals.
  • We will recognise others for their intellectual effort and willingly share the kudos.

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:

15 Responses to “Knowledge sharing principles”

  1. Tushar Panchal Says:

    Shawn,
    I am assuming that the knowledge sharing principles are in draft format for the client. As an external person not involved with Anecdote (though I am a big fan of yours) or the client, this list looks like another one of those lists that the management puts up on intranet/brochures/kitchens etc. to drive change without managing it. It looks like the classic management line “people are our greatest asset” when the fact is that people are a number on the payroll (for most organisations).
    The principles shoudl be short as such:
    – Share what I know
    – Learn what I don’t know
    – Respect others
    – Have an open dialogue
    – Change is an opportunity
    – Failure is learning
    – Lead where I can
    I am not an expert, but making them short and sharp does help to emphasise the principles rather then long winded sentences.
    You might to try getting a focus group and facilitate each person to come up with a single word for one of the principles they believe should be part of the knowledge strategy. Also asking the person why that particular word would be helpful to get some insight into how the culture thinks within that organisation.
    Then again, as I said earlier, I am not an expert and these are my humble views.
    Keep up the good work you guys do!
    Regards,
    Tushar

  2. tjoyce Says:

    This is a useful list that I will post on my cubby wall. Though the count already exceeds the magic 7, I would like to suggest just one more principle for your consideration. Not sure how to best phrase this thought, something along the lines of: We will listen to each others’s stories because our stories carry so much (knowledge) that is tacit.

  3. Stephen Dale Says:

    Shawn,
    great idea. Was racking my brain to see if you had missed anything, but think you’ve got the key points covered. However, having nine policy statements makes me think there is a tenth one out there somewhere. I’ll come back if I think of it!

  4. Jack Vinson Says:

    I think this may be similar to the first & second entries, but maybe not…
    We will share what we find that is of interest to our colleagues. Which means… we know what our colleagues are interested in.

  5. Shawn Callahan Says:

    Thanks everyone for your useful comments.
    Tushar, your views are spot on and I appreciate the wake up call really. We have been working with the client to develop these ideas but I do like you snappy version in addition to the full sentences. The focus group idea is a good one too.
    It’s a bit embarrasing that I didn’t have a specific story related principle. That will make up the 10th principle Stephen! And knowing what your colleagues are interested in is also important – hmmm 11. I believe the research shown our short term memory can cope with 7 +- 2. For me it is more on the minus side 🙂

  6. Shawn Callahan Says:

    Thanks everyone for your useful comments.
    Tushar, your views are spot on and I appreciate the wake up call really. We have been working with the client to develop these ideas but I do like you snappy version in addition to the full sentences. The focus group idea is a good one too.
    It’s a bit embarrassing that I didn’t have a specific story related principle. That will make up the 10th principle Stephen! And knowing what your colleagues are interested in is also important – hmmm 11. I believe the research shown our short term memory can cope with 7 +- 2. For me it is more on the minus side 🙂

  7. Shawn Callahan Says:

    Based on Tushar’s idea of using memorable phrases, I done the following:
    Share what I know. We will share what we know with our colleagues.
    Help others learn. We will take time to help our colleagues learn
    Engage in conversation. We will encourage open and rigorous dialogue, discuss and exploring assumptions, and speak our mind respectfully.
    Avoid reinventing the wheel. We shall see if what we are about to embark on has been done before rather than create things from scratch.
    Borrow ideas and use them. We will borrow ideas shamelessly (with attribution) and not suffer the ‘not invented here’ syndrome.
    Failure is learning. We will take time to learn from our successes and failures.
    Actively participate. We will promote cooperation, trust and active participation in project teams, task forces and networks.
    Discover new perspectives. We shall actively look outside our discipline in search of ideas, concepts and approaches that can be adapted and applied to meet our goals.
    Recognise and celebrate. We will recognise others for their intellectual effort and willingly share the kudos.
    Be story-tellers and -listeners. We will encourage one another to tell and listen to our stories.

  8. Arthur Shelley Says:

    Shawn,
    Nice list! When I read the first one I found myself wanting something stronger about publicly acknowledging those that collaborate or share knowledge. This is stronger in your last post (under “Recognise and Celebrate”). I would be even stronger in this statement because it is through providing public accolades for active participants that others will be drawn into participating.
    Maybe something like, Publicly acknowledge and celebrate: Recognise and promote the participant contributions through a range of communication channels and highlight the value they create.

  9. ken Says:

    argh, this has been frying my brain all week.
    I feel like such a cynic, the initial post didn’t rock my world (of course sharing it online is a good example of the participation the web offers), and Tushar’s short n sweet style had a great appeal. I’m no expert either, and there’s still some dissonance, for me, though…
    Am I missing something, or is sharing as a metaphor not without it’s problems? For me it evokes the knowledge as a thing frame, knowledge transfer v technology transfer, nouns and verbs, stamp out nouns 🙂 The very word sharing is making it hard for me to past the concept itself.
    Evolutionary selection may have wired our brains with social emotions, there’s an advantage in getting together, sharing experience. We can share a coffee, have lunch, a chat (or comments in a virtual space like this). Getting to know each other.
    If I sit down besides a wise friend (chairs and all that 😉 we can talk-about ideas, but neither of lose them, it feels like a paradox. They can tell me a story, but I can’t take it from them. Thomas Jefferson used a nice analogy of ideas as candle light – economists, always preferring obfuscation, talk of non-rival-goods, knowledge spillovers as seeding growth.
    We can’t beg, borrow or steal ideas – but others can steal our time and attention. To promote sharing feels, to me, like we might encourage a game where some try-harder to share-more, ending up over-sharing, a preaching share-monster, playing the game, seeking rewards and recognition. Is it the shared experience that we want to promote – sharing space and time, our scarce resources, with those we value, to create value (not brownie points)?
    Am I out of compliance with the corporate principles, should I stop thinking, drink the kool-aid and eat some motherhood and apple pie 🙂

  10. Shawn Callahan Says:

    Ken, I agree with what you are saying. The objective of this list in an organisation is to prompt a conversation among the people in the organisation about what they believe is acceptable behaviour. Can you suggest another metaphor apart from ‘sharing’ that would help a group develop a positive environment for how knowledge is used? BTW, I’m not an expert either. Who is? We can only explore and generate discussion and learn from our experience.

  11. reasonable robinson Says:

    As a list of principles it is difficult to disagree. I think that Tushar makes a good point too about making the list terse. We all know, of course, that normative (this is what we want) lists, do not , of themselves produce the hoped for changes in behaviours. The ‘assumptions’ of this approach tend to ignore the power/political dimension of any organisational learning intervention. i.e/. the rhetoric and the reality often don’t match. So, how might the desired behaviours be encouraged? Well if we accept that attitudes drive behaviours the senior group have to model the very thing they want(walk the talk), secondly the participants need to be led to understanding the KM principles underpining the intervention, so I would suggest making them aware of Nonaka and Takeuchis Knowledge Spiral and getting them to discuss blocks and biasses as they exist in the organisation, and getting them to articulate what is needed to achieve the KM outcome. Lastly, the problem with lists of principles is that they emphasise WHAT, and remain silent on HOW and WHY. Participants need to understand the specific purpose of the intervention. However you will meet scepticsim if the purpose is couched in ‘managerialist’ terms – like It’ll improve competitive advantage, It’ll make best us of our know how, etc. Whilst these are necessary senior team objectives , participants will not (although they’ll publicly claim they do) give a damn. What are the WIIFms from their point view (after all respect and open dialogue is a behaviour your list wants to encourage!) Or is it just another version of ‘My Way or The Highway’ )F.I.F.O. management. Finally as for declaring assumptions; are the management team aware of their own neo-modernist HR, KM, OL asumptions on this issue…might their be another way of seeing it….:)

  12. ken Says:

    Crikey, find another metaphor, what a challenge! Well, driving along this morning a word did pop up into mind (is driving like Archimedes bath?): “diffusion” fits for me – maybe not for others, though? It seems to convey both the semi-random and disruptive selection process, one where the just and good have no right to succeed, failure is a real option, the interaction and uncertainty of uncharted territory – or is that too future oriented, ignoring the past, the known, the procedural? For me, diffusion hints at action, choice and adoption for personal and network value, rather than just towing the party line.
    And, I think your question demonstrates what could become one of the principles – rather than encouraging sharing per se, we can learn to sense the unease in our shared space (inherently emotional, the gut-feeling of not-knowing married to a rational awareness), to seek out, to ask, request and trust the silence of the moment without stifling the creative tension, imposing our known and familiar solutions upon it.
    The framing of the question as a request for clarity was welcome – having posted the comment I worried whether it was too harsh. A principle of not-reacting and asking-questions is clear, and also hints at secondary meaning: the archetypical quest and challenge of a good story, seeking new ways in a complex space. Ways (or strategies) each fit for the known, the knowing and the knowable – generating an uncertain space of discontinuous change, a tipping point (or suck-threshold as Kathy Sierra wonderfully phrases it – are primal metaphors more sticky than abstract concepts?)
    Returning to diffusion, it does seem a little abstract. Speaking only for myself, I’d be happy to keep knowledge-sharing, if it was framed like one of de Bono’s provocative operations – to generate conversation, as you say. The principles could then bound-and-ground us – e.g. does “knowledge” refer to the known, the knowing or knowable; they could touch on the paradoxical nature between the physical and the informational, what we can and can’t get, give, take – and the space, time and attention we can share with each other, in which can emerge novel ideas – or is that the mysterious “unorder” 😉
    P.S. another principle I like, from one of your earlier posts, rather than the politically correct “respect” is to “play the ball, not the player”, it has a fun quality to it.

  13. Shawn Callahan Says:

    Your knowledge diffusion idea appeals to me but it raises another issue of practicality. I’ve found it extremely difficult to introduce a new phrase into an organisation when another similar idea has already stuck. The question then becomes, “Do I expend energy unsticking and replacing the old with the new, or do I embed the old phrase with the new meaning?” Tacit knowledge is a good example. I believe tacit knowledge to be ineffable but most organisations believe it to be just waiting to be made explicit. So my practical approach is to help the organisation to learn why tacit knowledge remains tacit and introduce its ineffable characteristics. I think knowledge sharing will be in the same boat.

  14. Stephen Collins Says:

    Shawn, on the notion of failure, I’ve seen it expressed in the context of KM and social computing as “fail gloriously and often”.
    That is, celebrate failures as they are marvelous opportunities to learn what does and does not work and do so in an environment where experimentation is encouraged and undertaken frequently. Try things for a short period of two to eight weeks – if they succeed, keep doing them, if not toss them away and put another notch in your “I’ve learned something” belt.

  15. Shawn Callahan Says:

    Stephen, I like the idea of failing gloriously and often. Some industries, however, seem to be more open to this than others. My experience of the public sector, for example, is best described by comparing how failure is scored between the private and public sector. In the private sector if you do 10 things right and one thing wrong your score is 9. In the public sector if you do 10 things right and one thing wrong your score is -1.

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