Why you should promote knowledge sharing as innovation first, and efficiency second.

Knowledge sharing often fails in architecture and engineering firms because it is promoted solely as an efficiency initiative. “Profits and job satisfaction will soar if we all follow the standards, stop re-inventing the wheel, and focus on operational excellence,” or so the meme goes.

The problem with the bottom-line focus on knowledge sharing is three-fold:

1) Architects and engineers don’t manufacture repeatable products, so there is only so much juice to squeeze out of the operational inefficiency lemon.

2) Improving the bottom line, while sexy in concept, is often a grind in implementation.

3) Very few architects and engineers pop out of bed in the morning dying to follow standard processes and procedures. Architects and engineers enjoy having inefficiencies in their work.

This is not to say that continuous improvement, operational efficiency, and profitability are not important, they are, but I don’t think that they are compelling enough flags to rally the troops around, at least not alone. 

Bottom-line issues speak to our rational brains, not our emotional brains. Top-line issues such as innovation, research and development, and growth get the blood and adrenaline pumping. Think about it, would you rather steward existing knowledge and make continuous improvements or discover new knowledge, lead the marketplace, and have clients approach you?

Of course, this is a false choice, you should drive the top line through new services and innovation and the bottom line through operational excellence. But if you want to get people to follow you, and more to the point, if you want to create a sustainable, repeatable, growing practice of knowledge sharing, you have to capture the hearts and minds of your staff, and I would suggest starting with their hearts. I believe the heart of an architect or engineer wants to innovate, so promote knowledge sharing as innovation first, and efficiency second.

Posted: May 6th, 2011 | Filed under: General, Most Popular | 3 Comments »

3 Comments on “Why you should promote knowledge sharing as innovation first, and efficiency second.”

  1. 1 Rhonda said at 7:13 am on May 7th, 2011:

    As a process manager in an engineering firm, I agree no one gets that jazzed about procedural efficiencies – until they have to fill out three forms that ask for the same information…That said, I also agree to promote knowledge sharing you have to appeal to the heart and mind, and innovation is a very compelling message. However, innovation takes time. Clients pay us for innovative solutions that are delivered efficiently. So a KM solution that enables collaboration and innovation in an efficient platform should be an easy sell. But is it really going to encourage knowledge sharing? What if what you know is what makes you valuable? Is the desire to innovate enough to get over the hurdle of “knowledge is power”?

  2. 2 Christopher Parsons said at 12:10 pm on May 9th, 2011:

    I think that your questions are good. Have you read Dan Pink’s book Drive? I agree with his (and others) assessments that intrinsic motivation has be the primary driver for a knowledge worker. They share to get smarter (to get feedback on ideas) to demonstrate expertise (a little peer recognition feels good) and because they believe in the mission of their firm, leader, and/or initiative.

    You are right to point out that some folks will hoard knowledge out of fear, and if a firm’s culture permits knowledge hoarding, it will continue. Ed Friedrichs reminded us at KA Connect 2011 that the half-life of knowledge is increasing rapidly, so that half of what you know today will be irrelevant in three years. In other words, the knowledge hoarder’s security today becomes their liability tomorrow.

    I also believe that the nature of knowledge is changing, in that knowing who has knowledge and/or how to tap knowledge networks is becoming the critical skill for a knowledge worker. So “knowledge is power” gets morphed into “knowledge sharing is power” or “knowledge networks are power.”

  3. 3 Rhonda said at 2:40 pm on May 9th, 2011:

    Christopher, your comments remind me of a book I’m reading now called The Power of Pull. The authors also mention that stocks of knowledge will soon prove irrelevant and understanding how to share and pull relevant knowledge will be what enables individuals and corporations to succeed in this quickly-changing world. The authors also say that these stocks of knowledge can provide valuable context from which to filter and make sense out of new knowledge streams. So I think it’s worth trying to capture some stocks of knowledge – and intrinsic motivation along with a peer recognition reward system may prove successful if culture otherwise discourages sharing.
    I have not read Drive, but will check it out – thanks!