The power of questions to create knowledge

Lilia has been on a roll lately with lots of great posts on her blog. Here, again, she raises important points and offers her usual insight.

Too often knowledge management initiatives are sold and implemented around prospective benefits. They try to collect and organize knowledge assets of one sort or another on the notion that they ought to be useful to someone, somewhere. You can pretty much guarantee that these efforts will fail, regardless of how clever an incentive or punishment system you contrive.

Absent real questions, the materials contributed are stale and lifeless. With real questions in context, however, you get answers. I can’t recall a time when some expert hasn’t given me a helpful response to a sincere question in context. Sure, sometimes the response is a series of further questions that demonstrate that I don’t yet know enough to ask an intelligent question. But we get a dialog started that ends in new and deeper understanding. Sometimes it even ends in answers.

This is the magic of vibrant weblog communities that excites those of it who see their promise as a knowledge sharing tool. Unlike email, a community of weblogs and webloggers creates a space where those knowledge questions turn into the seeds of new knowledge creation. It isn’t likely to be neat and orderly and engineered. Instead, like the real world it will be messy and organic and fertile.

Knowledge flows are powered by questions.

Don’t know if this piece will survive in the paper I write, so post it here. This is pretty much what I think on “why people share knowledge”.

One of the goals of knowledge management is to improve knowledge flows and knowledge reuse in an organisation. While there is much discussion on knowledge sharing, motivation and culture, the demand side of knowledge exchanges seems to get too less attention.

I believe that knowledge flows are powered by questions: in many cases employees do not mind to share their knowledge, but do not do it because nobody asks them or because they are not sure that others need to know. This could be one of the explanations behind the success of on-line communities where knowledge bases fail (e.g. in Shell EP case, see Petersen & Poulfelt, 2002 or ask Andy): many communities work in a problem-solving mode, where knowledge sharing starts with a question or problem. In this case knowledge is shared to help others, and it is rewarding. In contrast, submitting a document (for example, “lessons learnt” from a project) to a knowledge base doesn’t have an immediate question behind it, but more of an expectation of future questions that may never arise, so the motivation to share is much lower.

And, as I wrote before, asking is more difficult then answering and reinventing is more fun then reusing.

Guess what my conclusion is? KM is about motivation to learn 🙂