Special Report - Unlocking Knowledge and Wisdom in the Enterprise - Page 2

Oct 26, 2010

Daniel Burrus

First, realize that all knowledge needs both context and content. For example, a good storyteller can’t just give you the punch line. They have to set it up first by giving you context -- the punch line that follows is the content. The same is true with your knowledge pull approach. You have to get people talking or writing about the context before the content has any meaning.

So let’s suppose you have a sales team and you want to pull knowledge from them. To begin, you’d set up an internal secure sales force knowledge base that all the salespeople have access to. This is called creating a community of practice, meaning that all the people who have a common profession come here to share knowledge. You can also create a community of practice for your HR team, your accountants, your engineers, etc. Communities of practice can be for virtually any group of people you have in your organization.

Then, you ask the community of practice for two short paragraphs each month. Why only two paragraphs? You don’t want to take a lot of their time. Additionally, the paragraphs you’ll get will be so powerful that you’ll have a lot of knowledge to learn from and act on. If you have 100 people on your sales team, you’re getting 100 knowledge entries a month that’s a lot of knowledge!

The process is very easy. Each paragraph is answering a question. The first is a context question, the second is a content question. Here’s an example of how the questions would work in terms of setting up the context and content:
  • Question One: “What was the biggest mistake you made last year with a customer?” This sets up the context. Let people know that you only want one short paragraph for a reply.
  • Question Two: “What did you learn from your mistake?” This is the content; where the real knowledge lies. Again, request just one short paragraph.

To encourage participation, give examples from the company’s executive team, showing the CEO’s, CFO’s, and other C-suite executive’s biggest mistakes and what they learned from them. After all, if the company leaders won’t share, why should anyone else? But if the top executives are sharing, then everyone else will feel compelled to share as well. The executives’ participation makes the process both “safe” and powerful.

If each of the 100 salespeople posts their biggest mistake and what they learned from it, you now have 100 bits of knowledge and powerful lessons that you can categorize. Then, the next month, you ask two more questions:

  • Question One: “What was the most important personal strategy you implemented last year?” (Context)
  • Question Two: “What did it do for you and your customers?” (Content)

Keep doing this two-question approach every month and your company will quickly have a wealth of actionable knowledge that can be used to rapidly solve problems and spread innovation.

Does anyone lose any of their knowledge by sharing it? No. Does the entire organization gain exponentially through the knowledge exchange? Yes! And if people leave, due to retirement or other reasons, at least you’ve captured some of their best knowledge instead of letting it all walk out the door. When someone new comes on board, you simply have him or her access the appropriate community of practice knowledge base network and start reading … and contributing.

Even better, you can pull knowledge externally as well as internally. For example, you as the CIO can be in a community of practice with other CIOs in companies similar to yours. The same concept would work for your CEO, CFO, etc. Even though everyone in the external community of practice would be working for competing companies, the reality is that the power of knowledge sharing is more powerful than competition. In fact, when competitors start sharing knowledge, they stimulate each other and get better ideas that each can go back and apply.

Remember, you can create new knowledge by sharing existing knowledge. And just gaining the knowledge isn’t enough; you then have to apply it. How you apply knowledge versus how your competitors apply knowledge will likely be very different and that’s a good thing. That’s how an industry evolves and how innovation occurs. You want to make sure you’re on the leading edge of that evolution and innovation. Sharing knowledge is the best way to do that.

Wisdom Pull - Once you get your knowledge network growing, you can take it a step further by tapping into your company’s wisdom and creating a wisdom base.

What is wisdom versus knowledge? Wisdom is a guiding principle that can usually be expressed in one sentence and that tends to be timeless and cultureless. For example, the saying “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, has been around for a long time. It’s one powerful sentence that many people use as a guiding principle. If you’ve ever read a quote that resonated with you, it was likely a one-sentence message that helped guide your thinking.

You can tap into the wisdom your team holds by creating a wisdom base where everyone shares their personal quotes. The process is simple: Tell the different communities of practice that you want to start collecting and sharing their guiding principles. Make it easy. Ask for only one principle stated in only one sentence a month. If someone can’t articulate their wisdom yet, that’s okay. Allow them to post a quote that contains a guiding principle from someone else for now.

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