Knowledge Hoarding


My friend Dinesh Tantri recently shared a piece over at K-Community about knowledge hoarding knowledge in Indian companies. The reasons for why the ISB found employees not sharing knowledge can be found on the link. The article looks at Indian companies and the reasons why employees in Indian companies tend to not share knowledge but probably the idea of hoarding knowledge is a global one. Question is why. And while the reasons mentioned in the report make sense we may want to look behind these reasons.

A few thoughts on how i think about this. I believe that over the period of the last few centuries (maybe the advent of the industrial revolution?) there has, with the formation of the modern-day model of the organization a mindset of scarcity. This mindset works on the assumption that there isnt enough for everybody. What this means is that is someone gets more then that would be because someone else would get less. If we look at the idea that the industrial revolution was based on material resources this is actually true. If someone gets more coal then that is because someone else gets less. If someone gets more machinery then thats because someone else gets less. If someone makes more money then thats because someone else makes less. This is the reason behind the century or more of colonial expansionism starting with the 18th century.

Once we agree with this idea then the next step would be to understand that in addition to the material resources another resource which is important to convert material into finished products which can be sold to customers is knowledge. So if you read the textbooks on management they talk about the M’s … i think Man, Money, Machine, Material. The Man part of this comes from the understanding that people are the source of labour but that cant be the only reason. Whatever the reason, if there is a thought of scarcity and there is the understanding that peoples knowledge is an important ingredient, the idea of knowledge is power cannot be too far. And this is the scenario we live in.

Coming to the 21st century where more and more value creation is based on knowledge. The basic difference between the knowledge-economy work and industrial-economy work is that the critical input to creating value for customers is different, knowledge and material respectively. Lot has been written about the structural difference between knowledge and material, namely that knowledge doesnt reduce by sharing, rather it increases by sharing, unlike material resources which reduce by sharing. As we see more and more work being done revolving around knowledge and knowledge playing a more and more critical role in value-generation we are also seeing more and more the idea that knowledge shared is knowledge shared, and this is where new ideas about knowledge and knowledge-sharing seem to be emerging.

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