Posts Tagged ‘Knowledge Sharing’

WikiJob: Knowledge Sharing in Action

February 12, 2009

WikiJob, as I discussed in my last post, is a British community-based website dedicated to helping students and graduates to secure places on graduate and internship schemes, through wiki-pages about many of the largest organisation’s graduate schemes and the varying recruitment processes they use, and the use of a forum where people can receive help on any questions they might have.

With the site’s core audience being students and recent graduates (roughly aged 19-24) it is perfectly suited. This audience, is popularly called the Net Generation or Generation Y, and have grown up with computers and the Internet, with their comfort with technology comes a willingness to share their experiences with others, whether through status updates on Facebook, tweets on Twitter, or posts and comments on blogs.

This sharing culture is enabling the users of WikiJob to perform better in recruitment processes through having more knowledge of what will happen at each stage and a more accurate view of what an organisation is truly like. On both of these fronts, in the past graduates and students would have been reliant on what the organisation says (if you believe what they say you’d conclude they are all super-green, give the best training, and are fun places to work… is this really the case?), or if they are lucky what an acquaintance who works there says about it. When trying to choose who to apply for it is very difficult to make informed decisions, which is what probably leads people to just apply to anyone and everyone in a scatter-gun approach, harming their performance in the process. WikiJob users have often been through the process, and some are now working as graduates in many of these organisations with the knowledge to help give other users the knowledge to make better choices.

Interesting Info about WikiJob

Of the users who signed up in WikiJob’s first three months, over 90% are still active on the site (info courtesy of Ed at WikiJob). Which is quite an incredible statistic from my perspective, I’m sure most forums and websites on any subject matter have relatively short active membership periods, where users sign up to get a question answered and then dissolve into the ether; indeed on the average graduate job board the user life span is typically less than 2-3 weeks (info courtesy of Ed at WikiJob).

This quote nicely sums up what the founders of WikiJob have created:

But then.. we’re not just a job board. We’re a community, and once you join in and starting communicating with people it’s a nice place to come back to again and again – we hope!

WikiJob – A Knowledge Market?

Knowledge buyers or seekers are usually trying to resolve an issue whose complexity and uncertainty precludes an easy answer… Knowledge seekers are looking for insights, judgements and understanding. (p.457, Cross and Prusak, 2003)

WikiJob has >175,000 visits each month, of this only a proportion will be registered members. Indeed just this minute on the forums guests out-numbered logged-in members 4:1. So just like most markets, there are many more buyers or seekers of knowledge than suppliers.

Knowledge sellers are people in an organization with an internal market reputation for having substantial knowledge about a process or subject… Although virtually everyone is a knowledge buyer at one time or another, not everyone is necessarily a seller. Some people are skilled but unable to articulate their tacit knowledge. Others have knowledge that is too specialized, personal, pr limited to be of much value on the knowledge market.(p.458, Cross and Prusak, 2003)

Cross and Prusak (2003) say that knowledge sellers (I will call them ‘knowledge suppliers’) assign a value to their knowledge, but as WikiJob is free to everyone, in its case knowledge suppliers are acting altruistically in providing information to others for free. Indeed by providing insights and knowledge to someone going for the same graduate scheme as you may increase the competition of competent candidates out of the seller’s favour.

What benefit is derived from providing information?

Knowledge suppliers placing knowledge that they have acquired onto wiki and forum pages for everyone else to read and learn from, must bring some benefits for it to be worth their while. I believe there are three main reasons for this knowledge sharing to take place:

  • Supply their knowledge for others to benefit in an act of altruism, “for the good of the rest of this community”;
  • Believe that by supplying knowledge to others they will increase the chance of getting a good answer to their questions when they seek knowledge;
  • For the rewarding feeling when you hear that the knowledge they supplied has helped another student of graduate get a job offer.

So, what does Richard think about this?

WikiJob is a fantastic example of knowledge sharing revolving around a community of like-minded people and also of a knowledge market in action. Its success is based around the willingness of members to contribute knowledge to the community, for whatever reasons they may have. It is like having the world’s largest network of friends ready to answer your questions around applying for graduate jobs or internships, something which would have been nearly impossible without the Internet, and quite possibly this is the first generation of people who would have the willing to share their experiences on such a large scale. Long may it continue!

Reference:

Cross, R., & Prusak, L. (2003). The Political Economy of Knowledge Markets in Organizations. In M. Easterby-Smith, & M. A. Lyles (Eds.), The Blackwell Handbook of Organizational Learning and Knowledge Management (pp. 454-472). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.)

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Knowledge Management Part 3: The Future…

February 2, 2009

This is the final part of a series of posts looking at Knowledge Management (KM), in these posts I will seek to explore what it is, whether it is worthwhile, and look at its future.

The Future of Knowledge Management:

Knowledge Management, as a subject area, grew rapidly during the 90s and early part of this century, with a lot of interest from companies looking to improve their performance and leveraging the knowledge and experience spread around the world in increasingly global organisations.

Many companies found out the hard way in the economic downturn of the early 90s and again after the dot-com crash that when there were redundancies, significant amounts of key organisation knowledge left with them, leading to knowledge gaps and costly mistakes. In the current downturn, many companies are likely to suffer the same problems.

I believe that Knowledge Management, is one way for organisations to reduce that risk. Whether through codification of knowledge and know-how onto process maps and procedures, or by encouraging all employees to share their knowledge and experience with others, I believe that Knowledge Management can perform a valuable role in preserving and enhancing organisational performance. But it must be understood by senior management that implementing a KM initiative is not going to do anything but waste money until the employees on the ground accept the idea and there is a cultural shift in the organisation to sharing knowledge across all areas.

From my reading on the subject I think KM practitioners and academics have begun to understand that rather than the technology or processes being the key to a knowledge management initiative’s success, it is the organisational culture and the willingness of its employees to share knowledge that determines its success or failure, the technology merely plays an enabling or facilitating role.

In this current economic crisis, companies should be utilising their greatest resource, their employees, for their combined knowledge and experience to keep the company going but also exploit their ideas (because you can be sure they are there somewhere) and launch truly innovative products, it is the organisations that can innovate successfully in this downturn which will perform best when the economy recovers.

One excellent example of a knowledge sharing community in action is a website for students applying for graduate jobs, www.wikijob.co.uk. It has a wiki-based section with publicly editable pages on different graduate recruiters, but the jewel in its crown is the forums where students post their experiences and help guide others through the many different recruitment processes. I will look at wikijob.co.uk further in another post in the future.

Should we ‘Abandon Stocks and Embrace Flows’?

January 30, 2009

In a very interesting blog post John Hagel III, John Seely Brown and Lang Davidson look at the shift from organisations which horde stocks of knowledge in secret to those which actively participate in ‘knowledge flows’.

They explain that in the past, if you knew something which nobody else did it was effectively a license to print money, by protecting that knowledge and using it to create products and services based on that knowledge (i.e. the Coca-Cola formula). This attitude is ‘deeply ingrained in the minds of executives’.

Hagel, Seely Brown and Davidson explain that in this new digital age, where products and knowledge are changing ever faster, stocks of knowledge are depreciating at a faster rate than ever before. They argue that in order to keep up it is necessary to:

continually refresh our stocks of knowledge by participating in relevant flows of new knowledge.

They identify two challenges with participating in knowledge flows:

  1. Knowledge does not flow easily
    • tacit knowledge (‘know how’) typically relies upon active knowledge sharing, Nonaka & Takeuchi (1995) describe master and apprentice traditions in Japan, this usually requires long-term trust-based relationships.
  2. To participate in knowledge flows over the long term it is necessary to also provide your own knowledge.
    • Participants in knowledge flows do not want people to take advantage of their knowledge for free (“takers”) so those who do not give enough knowledge back in return will find themselves increasingly marginalised.

Towards the end of their post they describe a technique for making the most out of knowledge flows, and show how spikes of knowledge and expertise have materialised across the globe (Silicon Valley, Bangalore, St. Petersberg), where like-minded people and organisations gather they exponentially enhance knowledge flows and we have all seen the success of businesses in these locations in developing cutting edge products and services.

What does Richard think about this?

These ‘knowledge flows’ remind me of communities of practice, as discussed in some Knowledge Management literature, where like-minded people are brought together to share their knowledge and experience with others, providing valuable transfer of knowledge and hopefully boosting their performance and making their organisations more successful.

I personally like the idea of knowledge flows, especially in fast moving sectors where it is necessary to maintain your own knowledge to enable your organisation to continue to deliver relevant and current products and services.

Could it be utilised within the automotive industry I wonder? I know some manufacturers have technological partners in developing the latest technology (i.e. Nissan and NEC developing new batteries for electric cars), and also their R&D divisions often have close links to universities. But the idea of knowledge sharing between automotive companies would be very difficult (except between partners), due to the secretive nature and very long lead times for development. Many automotive companies duplicate time, effort and money in developing competing new technologies. So I can’t really see it happening in the automotive sector. However, I could see them working with technological leaders in other sectors to share knowledge on similar technologies.

I might look at this further in a later post, so stay tuned…