It's the culture, some insights on organizational learning

Posted September 26, 2008

Here’s a great quote from a journal article I’m reading for class. The article nails the problem with most social media / knowledge management installations in organizations.

The difficulty in most knowledge management effort lies in changing organizational culture and people’s work habits. It lies in getting people to take the time to articulate and share the really good stuff. If a group of people don’t already share knowledge, don’t already have plenty of contact, don’t already understand what insights and information will be useful to each other, information technology is not likely to create it. However, most knowledge management efforts treat these cultural issues as secondary, implementation issues. They typically focus on information systems—identifying what information to capture, constructing taxonomies for organizing information, determining access, and so on. The great trap in knowledge management is using information management tools and concepts to design knowledge management systems.

Sharing useful knowledge is a skill that few people learn to use effectively. The past year and a half for various reasons I’ve heavily involved myself in the Drupal open source community. One of the most fascinating things I’ve seen and learned from is how members of the community share knowledge. Drupal has a very effective knowledge sharing culture. What I’ve learned is that it’s the people that make the Drupal culture effective not so much the tools or processes that the Drupal community has created.

People who become members of open source communities love to create and share knowledge. The people who are attracted to these kinds of communities have a passion for sharing and collaboratively creating knowledge. Another difference is the incentive structures. Open source communities are do-ocracies. People have power and influence within the Drupal community because they do something. They write code, they write documentation, they answer questions in the forums, and so on. People who do things get the respect and trust of their peers. In open source communities, both the people and the incentive structure encourage knowledge sharing.

So even with the twin disadvantages of using relatively unsophisticated collaboration software and that most contributors don’t work closely together; open source communities’ “knowledge management” systems stand as gleaming pillars of success next to the smoking hulks of the many multi-million dollar knowledge management systems developed and abandoned by major corporations. Any organization that wants to develop a strong knowledge sharing culture would do well to study the successes of the many open source communities. Organizations must find or develop the right kind of people and create the right incentive structures.

Tagged with drupal | education | learning | organizational learning | open source | organizational behavior | knowledge management | social media | open source development

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Kyle's profile picKyle Mathews lives and works in Seattle building useful things. You should follow him on Twitter. Currently exploring what's next and open to consulting.