26 April 2009

Is sharing knowledge really desirable in a business?

A. Imagine a company where no knowledge is shared. Only information is passed on between employees within pre-defined operational processes. Each employee exchange information only to their immediate colleagues, either within their team/department or with the colleagues in the next/precedent levels in the operational chain.

B. Imagine a company where all knowledge (tacit or explicit) is shared. All employees share their individual and collective (team/department) knowledge with every one else within the company. Each employee is free to share his/her knowledge with anyone else and to ask anyone for his/her knowledge on any subject (of a professional and non-confidential nature).

My question is simple: which of these two extremes is likely to generate the most successful business, assuming they would be both in the same market(s) and every other parameters equal (eg. number of employees, age) ?

I will expand on this question later on but for now, let me just say that for anyone answering B, please give me strong arguments because the majority of businesses today are still closer to extreme A.


At 10:18 AM, Blogger awiefoong said...


I saw this post on ActKM but haven't figure out how to post there.

I think this is an interesting question.

My 2cents take on this: If the two companies are 'exactly the same on everything', then one must be making a mistake.

Knowledge sharing is costly. But to some businesses it could be costlier if knowledge is not being shared. A more important question would be: To what extent companies want the employees to share knowledge?

There're a couple of good reference that talk about 'knowledge needs'. The arguments are largely centred on the characteristics of the works and business, and the characteristics of the knowledge critical for competitive advantage.

Nickerson & Zenger (2004) A Knowledge-Based Theory of the Firm - The Problem-Solving Perspective. Organization Science, 15(6) pp.617-632.

Dennis & Vessey (2005)Developing Successful Knowledge Management Strategies: Knowledge Hierarchies, Knowledge Markets, and Knowledge Communities. MIS Quarterly Executive, 4(4) pp.399-412.

Hope it helps.



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