Why Do I Share My Knowledge?

Gran Canaria - Puerto De MoganA couple of days ago, one of my favourite Enterprise 2.0 and Social Business thought leaders and blogger extraordinaire, Oscar Berg, put together a rather inspiring article that I thought would be worth while reflecting on, specially, since it is at the heart of not just social software, but also collaboration and knowledge management in general. Indeed, in “Why do people share?” he comes to reflect on perhaps one of the toughest challenges to answer for any knowledge worker out there: why do you share your knowledge across? Even more so when the vast majority of people just don’t share theirs out there openly and transparently in the first place. Not even a fraction. Why do we do it then? Or, even better, why don’t we do it?

Oscar points out a good number of reasons, with some rather interesting additional reading materials, as to why we are so inclined to share what we know with others without even asking for much in return: sharing as a gift, as a key motivator to increase our reputation, as we seek emotional communion, etc. etc. And while reading through the entire article, which I can certainly recommend, specially, the link to Nancy Dixon‘s superb entry on “The Incentive Question or Why People Share Knowledge“, I just couldn’t help thinking myself about my very own motivations to share my knowledge across out there, whether internally and externally, more than anything else as a self-reflection exercise trying to answer *why* do I do it and why do I keep doing it, and most, importantly, why can’t I conceive a business world where we couldn’t survive without sharing our knowledge across for others to benefit from it.

I can see Oscar’s points about sharing as a gift or to increase your reputation or as a method to seek that emotional communion. However, if I come to think about what drives me to share my knowledge out in the open over the last 15 years that I have been working in the corporate world, the motivators are sligthly different. To name:

Knowledge Sharing is the Learning, Learning is the Knowledge Sharing

Indeed, all along, and ever since I was first exposed to traditional Knowledge Management, over 15 years ago, it really hit me to think that perhaps one of the most profound key accelerators for one’s learning is that one of sharing your knowledge out there, in the open, and the more, the better, allowing others to benefit from it, contrasting it, challenging it, reframing it (What Harold Jarche has been talking about lately on Seek, Sense and Share, that another good friend of mine, Jack Vinson, captured so nicely in a recent blog post under a very suggestive heading: “Seek-Sense-Share is iterative“), instead of seeing it stagnate, inside your brain, because you never give it an opportunity to let it grow through that enriching experience of knowledge exchanges with other knowledge workers. Gran Canaria - Puerto De Mogan

To me, since we are all embarked on a lifetime learning experience of what we know, what’s around us, who we are, what we do and why we do it, who we connect with, etc. etc. knowledge sharing is innate to our human nature of wanting to connect and collaborate with others. We, human beings, are social beings, and as such have been bound to share what we know with others, so that our learning curve never becomes flat. On the contrary. 

The interesting challenge though is how over the course of the last few decades we have been “educated” to reject such human nature and instead of sharing our knowledge not only for our very own benefit, but that of others, we have been taught how we need to protect it, to hoard it from others, because “knowledge is power” and if we release our knowledge, we release our power, when we all know it’s rather the opposite: knowledge SHARED is power. Thank goodness for social networking tools we are now, finally, starting to realise about the damage that unnatural behaviour of not sharing our knowledge across has done to the corporate world, academia and our societies in general. It’s just like we are finally breaking free from that “information is power” yoke to fully comprehend we cannot longer neglect, nor ignore, what we were born to live by in the first place: share our knowledge openly. Share out stories.

Sharing is all about helping others

Indeed, this is perhaps one of the key motivators that plenty of people seem to have forgotten about all along. Pretty much along the lines of what Oscar mentioned about sharing as a gift, I keep telling folks that one of the most powerful things we can all do as humans is to eventually help other human beings when they are in need, and in order to do that we would need to start by sharing our knowledge and experiences, know-how, skills, lessons learned, etc. etc. In short, by sharing.

It’s all part of what Dave Snowden has been advocating all along as one of the main principles behind traditional Knowledge Management and which would still apply very much to Social Networking for Business today. In “Rendering knowledge“, to quote: “In the context of real need few people will withhold their knowledge“. Here is an example: no matter how busy you may well be, no matter how much, or how little, knowledge you may have about a particular topic, no matter whether you are new to an organisation or a seasoned knowledge worker, if a fellow colleague would be asking you for help, because they may feel you may be able to help them, it is going to be almost impossible for you to neglect providing that help in the shape of sharing your knowledge. We just do it. It’s in our nature. It’s part of that equation of trusting your peers, your networks, your communities, the folks around you, the ones whose personal business relationships you have been cultivating all along and for a reasonable amount of time. And once you have shared that piece of knowledge and helped your peer(s) there is nothing more gratifying than seeing them excel at what they are already good at. It’s that feeling of knowing you have done the right thing. It’s that feeling of fulfillment seeing how those folks around you keep succeeding, because you have taken the time to help them succeed. They succeed, you succeed. You succeed, they succeed.

Sharing is all about leaving a legacy behind for others to treasure

Gran Canaria - Puerto De MoganEver since I started getting involved with traditional knowledge management, then moved into collaboration, then online communities and, lately, social computing / networking, I keep telling people that one of the main key personal benefits of participating, engaging, and sharing your knowledge in social networks is that ability to build a legacy for which people would be able to remember you over the course of time. Indeed, what most other folks know as your personal (digital) brand.

Part of our human nature, once again. We love telling stories, we heart learning from stories (whether our very own, or stories from those who we trust the most), we rejoice from learning what other people are doing to leave a mark behind that would help us remember them when they are gone. We treasure and nurture all of those knowledge sharing exchanges that happen on the fly, allowing the magic of serendipity to do the rest.

Yet, if you look into the corporate environment we seem to have forgotten about leaving a legacy, as if we didn’t care back then, we don’t care now. Time and time again I keep talking to fellow colleagues who haven’t dived into social networks just yet about how they are missing a huge opportunity to build their own legacy for others to remember and treasure when they are gone. The fact that they keep hiding behind their mobile phones, or their favourite Instant Messaging client or, even worse, their eMail Inboxes, is not helping them much. You see? Whenever you would be ready to leave your organisation and move into your next adventure the first thing that Human Resources does is wipe out, *entirely*, such tools. And before you realise all of “your history” is gone! For good! And, even worse, without allowing anyone to take a peek at it! There goes your so-called personal brand.

I know that plenty of very experienced knowledge workers would be thinking that at that time, on the verge of perhaps reaching retirement, they wouldn’t care that much about not having that legacy and what not. And, to be honest, that’s probably one of the saddest things you can hear nowadays. How can’t you care much about your last 25 to 35 years (Or more!) of a hard working, professional life, where you have spent more than one third of your lifetime dedicated and committed to one, or several!, of your passions? Really? Is that how we all plan to live our one single life nowadays to think that we don’t care about leaving a legacy behind? I am not sure what you would think, but I would tend to think it would be rather the opposite. Otherwise, what’s the point? What are we doing for our future generations to help them remember who we are, what we do, why we do what we do? Least we could do is to give them an opportunity to be exposed to that legacy based on the knowledge we have shared, who we connect with, how we collaborate and innovate together and whatever else. Imagine if in 15 to 20 to 30 years from now people would not remember who you are anymore, specially, those who you have cared for the vast majority of your lifetime. Please do tell me that you care, that you are working your way towards leaving that legacy to those behind us. For their benefit. For our benefit. For everyone’s benefit. It’s the least we can all do at this point, don’t you think? Gran Canaria - Puerto De Mogan

This blog post, indeed, has been quite an interesting and unexpected reflection for yours truly on what motivates me every day when I wake up to come to work and share my knowledge out there. It’s not just that urge and eager need to connect and collaborate with others, to share that common passion across with those who I trust the most, to belong to a larger mission, to share that responsibility for what we do and who we are, to own it; to me sharing is all about pushing further my own learning experiences, to never stop learning, to always keep up with that critical thinking mentality that allows me to grow both intellectually and emotionally, to help others keep excelling at what they do, understanding that if they are successful on their own ways I, too, will be successful. How by going the extra mile for them they become better at what they do and they eventually make me better as a result of it, and how, as a result of all of that, at the end of the day, it’s all about the legacy each and everyone of us leaves behind in this world so that through that collective knowledge gathering and sharing experience we help future generations to build a better, smarter world, not just for them, but for future generations. Their own future generations. Today, we are just planting the seeds for them to start collecting the harvest  tomorrow, when the time is right, but if we don’t open up enough to share what we know now, we may not reach that common goal eventually in the long run. So, why do you share your knowledge? What drives you every morning out of bed to do what you do and to care for what you care?

Because there is probably something out there that you care for, right? Whether it’s your family, friends, relatives, colleagues, your work, your community, this world., etc. etc. What is it that drives you to share your knowledge and experiences eventually? What’s your legacy?

Dare to share it across?

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