About Knowledge – Redux 

In January of this year, I had an experiment . I have made a small YouTube video where while playing Horizon Zero Down I was discussing one concept of IT that is close to my heart – Knowledge.

As that was my first attempt at video editing, it was not good. The sound was quiet and damped, and my points weren’t as clear as they should be. A follow-up article on this blog was also more of the afterthought than a supplementary material.

For a long time, I thought about what to do with it, and finally, I’ve rewritten the article, the old one is still there, but  I want to give the subject full justice.

The road before us is long. We will tackle:

  • What knowledge is
  • Why is it important
  • What does it mean to be a Knowledge Worker and Learning worker
  • How can Knowledge Sharing grow in the company
  • What are learning organisations?

What Is Knowledge

As with many Abstract terms, there are many definitions of knowledge. Webster Dictionary states

The sum of what is known: the body of truth, Information, and principles acquired by humankind(…).

While Wikipedia has a much more complicated definition, but I can sum it up into a few words:

Theoretical or Practical understanding of the subject

But here is the reason Why I Am writing about knowledge I believe that what distinguishes us from animals is the ability to learn, cumulate Knowledge over the generations. An animal can learn by doing, they can learn by observing, Bees even can share Information about flower fields by dancing. But the ability to learn indirectly is uniquely human. We can learn from text, stories and other “indirect sources”. Yes, though, working with someone is the most efficient way to learn but have much more other alternatives at our disposal.

Knowledge vs Information

As I mentioned before, knowledge has many definitions, and there are many similar concepts. One of them is information.  Depending who you ask, you may see different interpretations: For some, both terms are the same. But for others Information is just "raw data" while knowledge is something more practical. Its Information plus know-how. For example: Let’s assume you want to learn programming. If you read a book about programming. – sure you learned a lot. You may understand some concepts and even basic structures. But until you sit and write some programs that work, you can’t say that you can code. – One is an Information, another is Knowledge.  I’ve seen it also described as Theoretical vs Practical Knowledge.

Why knowledge is essential?

This is a question that is frustrating to me; the importance of knowledge is my core belief. But I have trouble to put it in words. There are many reasons. As I stated before: Knowledge is one of the aspects that makes us human. Thanks to knowledge we as humankind came where we are. And we will go even further. But even in our day-to-day life, knowledge is essential.  If you are reading it, chances are you are working in IT, which means YOU ARE a knowledge worker.

Knowledge Workers

Knowledge Worker is a term coined by Peter Drucker; the goal was to differentiate workers that do manual work from those whose tool of the trade is their brain.  Originally this term meant Accountants and other office workers. With time term evolved to include IT, Doctors, Lawyers, etc.

With Time Following traits of knowledge workers have been codified ( via Corporate Finance Institute)

  • Communication Skill
  • Knowledge – Both Factual and Theoretical
  • Accessing and Applying Information
  • Motivation

I won’t go here into details of each of the term since the original article explains them well. I have made some highlights of what is important to me.:

Communication skill is part of an essential toolkit for knowledge workers. Because communication is mandatory for sharing knowledge. Yes, we can learn from books, but it is much easier to learn from others, and what is also essential others need to use our knowledge for their work.

Another aspect hard to overstate is motivation – you need to be motivated to stay in-game to learn more. Especially in IT, where we have a new tool/framework regularly. I still have PTSD about wild years 2016-2017 when a day without a new JS library was a day wasted.

Knowledge Sharing

While preparing this article, there was one point that sticks out for me from the research I read. Knowledge is critical for organisations that work in a highly competitive dynamic economy. Ability to learn, to efficiently use the knowledge, to adapt is a key feature for their survival. We will talk more about it in Learning Organisations. For now, let’s just say Knowledge Sharing is a base for their work and success.

For the next few sections, I will refer a lot to research by Sheng Wang and Raymond A. Noe  "Knowledge sharing: A review and directions for future research they did a great job aggregating and correlating great a good deal of research on this subject so it would be a waste not to use what they learned.

Organisation structure and knowledge

Among others, what they found is that an organisational structure has a great impact on knowledge sharing. Namely, the less centralised structure, the better.

This finding strongly resonated with book I read a few months ago – The Starfish and the Spider. The book concentrates on Starfish organisations. In short Starfish, organisation distribute both power and decision making to its members.  Such an organisations have an exceptional ability to respond to a local crisis before it grows too wide. Plus those organisations easily mutate and adapt to the new environment.

Basically the Management – if there even is one creates a vision that members will want to follow, but they have no actual power over the followers. But what it has to do with knowledge sharing? According to the book, one of the benefits of the starfish model is high ownership and independence of member – making them more productive thanks to it And as we will see next section, both are key ingredients for motivation.

Motivation and Knowledge

When we were discussing traits of knowledge workers, motivation was one of them. Fortunately for us, Researches here also took an extended look on the subject.  Interestingly Ownership of Information is essential. If employees felt they were the owner of the information, they were much more willing to share than in case when they believed the company owns the information. I hope now you see why I spent so much time talking about starfish organisations? Increased ownership leads to more sharing. And more decentralisation, the more the ownership.

Researchers also believed that desire for sharing was also coming from internal satisfaction derived from the process of knowledge sharing.  They believed organisation culture focusing strongly on "solidarity" and "need for achievements" had a strong influence on employes.

This correlates with research by Daniel Pink Drive and discussion on internal versus external motivation. In short, the author explains that Internal Motivation is a much better source of "productivity". External motivation needs constant stimuli to keep employees productive. What are worse thanks to diminishing returns, we have to bring a bigger and bigger carrot, or performance will drop. Internal motivation is a much better and stable source of productivity, especially for creative work (in this context, knowledge work is creative). The only problem is that internal motivation needs a friendly environment to flourish. For example, company culture has a great impact here.  Let’s go back to both aspects of culture: "Solidarity" and "Needs of Achievement" – I may be wrong here, but for me, it sounds like an internal motivation.

Going back to knowledge sharing – while studying online communities of practice, researchers found a correlation between knowledge sharing and:

  • internal satisfaction
  • need to give back to the community
  • reputation
  • Help with advancing the community.

I know this is anecdotal evidence, but I will say – all 4 are part of the reason why I am doing this all. Why I am speaking, why I am spending my time writing this blog post.:

  • It brings me satisfaction * I want to build my reputation as a valuable, knowledgeable expert
  • I want to give back to communities which helped me.

Authors found more links between motivation, culture and knowledge sharing.  "(…), a culture emphasising trust and innovation is conducive to knowledge sharing."  Also, Support of management is critical to the success of knowledge sharing initiative. I mean knowledge sharing is not cheap; it takes time from people and also requires infrastructure.  Plus if your peers are indifferent or actively hostile to knowledge sharing. Then you won’t find motivation in others to take part.

That was the long and tangled section. If there is anything I hope you get out of it is the interconnectivity of all the aspects. How far and wide effect company culture and its working model has. Knowledge sharing doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

Learning Worker

While doing research, I have also found a mention of another term.
Learning Worker.
Basically, the concept is similar to the knowledge worker but has emphasis more strongly put on the learning aspect. 

learning workers have the skills to learn as they go, adapt, and apply their learning to new situations and issues.

I think IT could be a splendid example. We are a relatively young field, and discoveries are made rapidly. What was good practice last year, maybe obsolete now.
Ability to learn is essential.

But I have two issues with this term:

Do we need a new term?

When I mentioned it to Alan Page his reaction was that he doesn’t see any difference from Knowledge worker.  Basically, the ability to learn and keep in the loop is essential in all forms of knowledge work.  I agree with him this clip from Scrubs makes this point really clear.

But on the other side. I am a firm believer in so-called magic of the names

Learning Organizations

Learning Organizations

I’ve first read about learning organisations in the books about DevOps, I think in both Devops Handbook and Beyond the Phonix Project authors made the statement: "You either are learning organisation, or you are loosing to one". Their sentiment is shared by the author of The Lean Startup – in one chapter he states:  If you project is successful, others will try to copy it. You need to out learn them. What I didn’t know that term Learning organisations is even older it was coined by Peter Singe and popularised in his book The Fifth Discipline. in his own words, a learning organisation is an organisation  "where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole (reality) together." I don’t know about you but that sound more and more like start fish organisation to me. Learning organisation have  also traits:

  • Systems Thinking (Collaborative Learning Culture)
  • Personal Mastery ("Lifelong Learning" Mindset)
  • Mental Models (Room For Innovation)
  • Shared Vision (Forward-Thinking Leadership )
  • Team Learning (knowledge sharing)

In braces, I have put alternative names used in this article.  I hope that you see a correlation between them and our discussion on knowledge sharing. The motivation for learning and culture for knowledge sharing are traits of learning organisations.

Summing it up

This was a lengthy article. My goal here was to share some insight into the knowledge and its use in our work. 
We started with a discussion about what is knowledge and is their difference between Knowledge and Information.
Later we discussed the concept of the knowledge worker and learning worker. What are the traits of the knowledge worker
Finally, we have come to knowledge sharing. How important it is and how learning organisation use their ability to learn to accumulate and use their knowledge.
If there is one thing I want for you to take from this article is this.
Knowledge and knowledge sharing is essential for the survival of your company. But for it to happen, management has to support it more than just on paper. Because of its complex system, Knowledge sharing doesn’t happen in a vacuum. 
That all for today but before I sign out, I would like to share.  
There are still many subjects I haven’t even tackled. 
Including My frustration with people who don’t understand how important it is to learn, especially in IT. 
Nor I talked about our age and learning how it gets harder with age.
Neither I mentioned the issues of creativity and knowledge.
Another topic I found about to make it an actual part of this article – Personal Knowledge Management Systems and this one I will definitely do another article on.
I have some connected articles in the further reading section at the end of the article. But if you are interested. I can follow up.

Further reading

Bellow list include all sources I used including articles that didn’t made into final cut but are still worth exploring 

Online articles:


All images in article come from pxhere https://pxhere.com/ and with licence CC0 Public Domain

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