Knowledge Management – why should I share my expertise and know-how with office idiots?

A nasty highlight of the “I’m powerful, you’re an idiot” problem when it comes to Knowledge Management.

Before we start, don’t talk to me about altruism; I’ve done my social psychology homework. Today, my perspective is from within a massive office.

Sorry about the title. I don’t know any ‘office idiots’ and I absolutely agree that ‘ignorance’ (of a system, of a process) is not a crime, but merely a ‘learning need’. ‘Ignorance’ is not an insult judgement word, it is a describer. I am ignorant of court etiquette, no biggie!

That said, I want to ask the big philosophical question of:

“Why should you share your expertise with an unknown office person who you don’t have a relationship with and never will? Especially when their role or expertise can never benefit you or your role.”

Bill Quirke (Internal Communications consultant) has said that when it comes to Knowledge Management a person has to “care before they share”.

My question above leads to further thoughts. Why do unknown people seek you out in particular? Is your reputation so jolly good, or is your role so arcane and esoteric there literally is no one else to ask?

Why not have a relationship with them? Relationships don’t have immediate pay-offs in the literal sense, but they add value and connectivity in abundance.

How do we know their role or expertise will never benefit us? If they’re office strangers to us, we don’t know what they know! They may have a personal passion for Excel, they might know everything about Gannt charts! Maybe they know everyone else who you might like to know; maybe they have personal power and influence that you don’t. You’ll never know how they might make your life more pleasant and easier if you don’t give them a chance to work with you.

But, in this age of the Internet, the intranet, repositories of ‘How To Guides’ and process maps, why are these people asking you instead of making the effort to better themselves and learn something? Learning takes place when things are applied (experimentation theory of learning).

The answer to “Why should you share?” might be that you’re part of a community, with shared aims. You might not know Julie from Accounts, and it may be highly unlikely that you’ll ever call on her help with one of your Customer Focussed Projects, but if your company has a goal, and you’re all working towards it in your own departments, then you’re in a community are you not?

Hmm, that feels a bit weak I admit. Bill Quirke says we have to care, and while we may all claim to care about the company goals, they don’t drive us each hour of each day do they – they’re strategic, not tactical. Tactical working means getting your work done so that your boss and clients are helped, and think your work and your role and you yourself are brilliant.

Is that mercenary of me to say it out loud?

Consider the old adage that “we’re a team”, and that “we share success as a team”. Bull. Teams don’t get promoted (in the UK, few people do either). Teams don’t get pay rises together. Teams don’t get to apply for better roles. An individual who wants to progress has to progress on their own merits (job interview) based on their successful projects and programmes. Along with the usual ‘works well in a team’ off-hand mention.

Before I start experimenting by telling unknown office people “I’m sure you can find that stuff on the intranet or Google” please let me know your answer to the big question.


Photo credit: WonderFerret

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