Why Enterprise Knowledge Management is Structurally Flawed

By Deane Barker

Seth Gottlieb has put together a brilliant post that really calls into question the basic foundation of knowledge management:

The Employee and the Professional

The thing is that advanced skill and knowledge are wrapped up in the professional side of the person and that side wants to interact with his/her field (inside and outside the company). It is far more rewarding to share brilliant insight on a large professional network than to a small group of co-workers. The few co-workers that are as passionate as the professional are probably already on that external professional network too.

This reason, in fact, might be the sole reason that a lot of (most?) knowledge sharing projects in the enterprise fail.

People are not wired to share knowledge by default, so there has to be a reward. And the reward of sharing knowledge inside the company is often just not enough.

There are two rewards I can think of that might be enough of a carrot to get people do it:

  • Scope: having your knowledge affect a large number of people beyond your immediate sphere of influence (read: new people; those outside the company)

  • Time: having your knowledge be enduring, even timeless (read: not limited by your time at the company)

Inside the enterprise, you don’t get these. Your knowledge is shared only with the people around you (people who probably already have an established opinion of you), and once you leave the company, the brilliant blog posts you made don’t matter so much anymore and probably won’t benefit you in any material way.

I’ve always joked that the best personality trait a blogger can have is a healthy dose of narcissism. Fact is, we like to project our knowledge and opinions out in to the world. We love getting comments and emails from people we don’t know who appreciate our knowledge. We love the idea that our sphere is influence not closed – it’s theoretically unlimited.

You just don’t get that from inside your company. Sharing knowledge inside your company is not…thrilling, really. It’s not sexy. And this is why most knowledge sharing projects never really get off the ground.

(Related: How Do You Operationalize Knowledge, which presents a long, fictional case study and lots of ideas on how to do the exact thing that Seth argues will never work.)

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