Special Report - Unlocking Knowledge and Wisdom in the Enterprise - Page 1

Oct 26, 2010

Daniel Burrus

Every company has both information and knowledge. What’s the difference? Knowledge is something that’s actionable and that generates value for the receiver; it’s dynamic and causes action. Information, on the other hand, is static and is not actionable. It’s simply compiled data.

For example, if you received a list of all the sandwich shops in your state, you’re now informed, but you don’t have any real knowledge of how to make a sandwich. However, if someone showed you how to create a great sandwich that tastes better than any other sandwich you’ve ever had, you now have something actionable. The person shared with you some knowledge based on his or her experience. You can go home and recreate that sandwich again. That’s knowledge.

The good news is that knowledge increases in value when it’s shared. Think about it … have you ever learned from a co-worker? A customer? A stranger in the coffee shop? Of course you have. But you didn’t learn by giving the other person basic information. More than likely, you were in a dialog. You shared your knowledge and they shared theirs. In the process, you both learned something new and valuable.

Unfortunately, human nature is to horde and protect knowledge because we think we only have a certain amount of knowledge in our head. If this were true, then we’d certainly want to covet it dearly. In reality, each person is a fountain of knowledge and new ideas based on personal experiences, meaning the knowledge well is deep and won’t run dry. Additionally, when you share your knowledge, you don’t lose it.

Think of it like this: Suppose you’re in a large, dark room with hundreds of other people. Everyone in the room is holding an unlit candle, except for you -- you have the only lit candle. Your lone candle provides the only glimmer of light. What happens when you walk over to someone holding one of the unlit candles and light it with your flame? The room is brighter, yet you don’t lose your initial flame. What happens when you use your flame to light another candle, and then another, and then another, and so on? Do you still have your original flame? Yes. Only now the room is more brightly lit because you shared your flame.

The same thing happens when you share knowledge. You still have your ideas, but by sharing them with someone else, you have the potential to improve those ideas well beyond what you previously thought possible. You make the ideas glow a little brighter. That’s why knowledge sharing is so powerful.

Knowing that knowledge sharing is valuable, it makes sense to capture and leverage knowledge in your organization. But how do you do that? Putting knowledge in a file cabinet or on a hard drive isn’t enough. You need to have your company’s knowledge on your network so it can be accessed anytime, anywhere, and via any device. People need to be able to not only view the knowledge, but also add to it and utilize it. That’s how knowledge evolves, stays relevant, and gets more valuable.

Additionally, realize that organizations today are facing a major knowledge drain crisis. Approximately 78 million Baby Boomers in the United States are headed for retirement. When they leave, they’re going to take all the knowledge and wisdom that’s in their head with them. Unfortunately, no one can change the fact that so many people will be retiring. But you can decide whether the retirees in your company are going to take their knowledge with them or if you’re going to capture it.

Knowing all this, it makes sense to develop knowledge sharing networks within your organization. The question is, how do you create one?

It all starts with the CIO

Harnessing the knowledge within your organization can’t happen without the CIO’s involvement. Why? Because one of the key tasks for the CIO and the IT department is to create new added value and competitive advantages for the organization. That’s precisely what a knowledge-sharing network delivers. The only way knowledge sharing can work organizationally is by putting it on a network.

In order to create a knowledge base containing the collective knowledge within the organization, you need networks that allow for instant access to the knowledge that’s gathered. A working, dynamic, real-time knowledge base is more powerful than any database or information base.

For centuries, knowledge sharing has been done on a small scale without technology, such as when people hang out around the water cooler, have casual lunches together, or go to a meeting. It’s during these times that people share lessons learned and best practices.

Unfortunately, such meetings are sporadic or only last a short time. Additionally, only a limited number of people receive the knowledge. And since it’s not captured, there’s no way for people to continually access the knowledge that was shared. But the CIO can put the company’s knowledge into a dynamic state by using simple networking technology. Capturing and leveraging intellectual assets is an area where the CIO can be highly strategic and can add value to the organization in ways no other executive can.

Knowing how vital your role as the CIO is to creating a knowledge base, it’s time to start getting people involved with the process. Again, your role is to drive the initiative and spearhead the process and technology. Others in your organization can set up a means to pull knowledge out of people.

Here’s how:

Knowledge Pull - There was a movement in the 1990s to capture knowledge that resided inside organizations, but few had luck with it. Most of the knowledge they were sharing was really just information, and many companies made the sharing process too time consuming and complex. To make knowledge-sharing work, you need to engage in a process I call “knowledge pull", where you pull the knowledge out of people.

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