One of the most challenging and difficult things to manage and facilitate in any organisation is the knowledge that resides in people’s heads in such way so that as many people as possible benefit from that knowledge.

Often there is a collectivism of knowledge too. If other pieces of the whole reside in the heads of different people then it is entirely possible that one piece on its own will make little or no sense. It only makes sense as a part of the whole. On its own it is nothing more than data.

Clever organisations have recognised the necessity not only of downloading and sharing what is in the heads of individuals, but in harnessing the collective wisdom that is warehoused in multiple heads. Institutional knowledge is one of the key components that differentiate a brand. It is also a crucial part of the capacity and agility of a company. It may well be a significant piece of what many might recognise as the culture of an organisation. It is unseen, covert, implicit, unrecognised and yet an extraordinarily powerful part of the organisational DNA. It may be the most important element that connects all the members of an organisation together in such a way that makes them recognisably members of that organisation. It is probably that ingredient that enables members of an organisation to speak and behave in a certain recognisably particular manner.

Knowledge is in people’s heads. It is not somewhere else. Not in some information warehousing software package that the was sold as a knowledge management system. These systems are very useful places for storing tonnes of info and are hugely important in the knowledge management framework. But just as it takes an operator to switch on a computer it takes people to make real knowledge management work.

Unused information is useless. It is when people light up information and start to churn it like milk in a butter churn that it really comes to life and starts to become useful. It must surely be obvious that knowledge only has value if it is shared. If this does not happen it is completely sterile and has no value at all. As soon as it begins to be shared its value increases and the more it is shared the more the value increases almost at an exponential rate; directly proportional to the number of people it is shared with.

This notion is critical within any organisation. For the organisation to truly benefit from the knowledge that resides in the heads of its people it is essential to develop a strategy for downloading this knowledge so that it can be shared. We all know that people are reticent about sharing. The more hierarchical and authoritarian the organisation is the more people protect the knowledge they deem to be theirs: “Information is power!”

The process needed to turn this into a reality means starting with the collective mindset, or culture of the organisation. It is essential to develop and nurture a culture where sharing is the norm and using the collective knowledge is the powerbase of the organisation. When this is in place then you have a real chance of ratcheting up the collective knowledge of the team. When everyone knows that everyone benefits from sharing to make the team stronger amazing things start to happen!

How do we mine individual knowledge? It starts with getting people talking to each other not just inside divisional teams but across functions and levels. The conversational energy levels need to be high and these should be encouraged and nurtured. Once this culture is endemic them you can start having managed focus groups where people are not embarrassed or shy to share because they know all opinions count; every viewpoint is valid and valued.

When individuals and teams start to organise their own focus groups to solve problems; create ideas, spur creativity, then you know your knowledge management is beginning to pay off. Feed the system, ask difficult questions. Get everyone talking about the kind of future they want for themselves, for their organisation and for their country.

This is the energy that makes positive change happen!


Tony Frost