5.6 Knowledge Sharing

5.6 Knowledge Sharing

           As discussed earlier, knowledge management is fundamentally about making the right knowledge or the right knowledge sources (including people) available to the right people at the right time. Knowledge sharing is therefore perhaps the single most important aspect of KM, since the vast majority of KM initiatives depend upon it. Increasingly, knowledge-sharing research has moved to an organizational learning perspective as successful knowledge sharing involves extended learning processes rather than simple communication processes, as ideas related to development and innovation need to be made locally applicable with the adaptation being done by the ‘incumbent firms’ (Nelson & Rosenberg, 1993) or ‘the local doers of development’ (Stiglitz, 1999) for the ideas to be successfully implemented.

           Effective performance and growth in knowledge-intensive organizations require integrating and sharing highly distributed knowledge. The literature identifies five primary contexts that can affect successful knowledge-sharing implementations:

  1. the relationship between the source and the recipient,
  2. the form and location of the knowledge,
  3. the recipient’s learning pre-disposition,
  4. the source’s knowledge-sharing capability, and
  5. the broader environment in which the sharing occurs.

           Jeffrey Cummings (2003) has argued that a successful knowledge-sharing effort requires a focus on more than simply the transfer of the specific knowledge. Instead, many of the activities to be undertaken need to focus on structuring and implementing the arrangement in a way that bridges both existing and potential relationship issues, and examining the form and location of the knowledge to ensure its complete transfer (Cummings, 2003).

           Knowledge sharing can be described as either knowledge push or knowledge pull. Knowledge push means when knowledge is "pushed onto" the user (e.g. newsletters, unsolicited publications, etc.) whereas knowledge pull means is when the knowledge worker actively seeks out knowledge sources (e.g. library search, seeking out an expert, collaborating with a coworker etc.).

           As knowledge sharing usually depends on the habit, environment, culture and willingness of the knowledge worker to seek out and/or be receptive to available knowledge sources. So, right culture, incentives, willingness, and so on must be present to make knowledge sharing process productive.

           KM and organizational learning theorists have sometimes downplayed the value of explicit knowledge sharing and focused largely on tacit knowledge (Brown & Duguid, 1991; Cook & Brown 1999). It has been argued that explicit knowledge management systems are quite transparent and therefore fairly easy to replicate. Many have argued that in a world where we have an overflow of explicit knowledge, the ability to manage it, and thus to provide continuous streams of relevant knowledge and information, can be a source of competitive advantage (Maier 2002; Botha et. al., 2008). This means that these systems can be the source of sustained long term competitive advantages (Jackson et. al., 2003).