Keeping your knowledge secret from others, as an individual and as a company, has long been seen as the key to business success. But new research is proving this approach wrong.
Popular business advice books like Seth Godin’s Linchpin have long been teaching workers to become “indispensable” to their companies, so that their employer will find it impossible to fire them. To do this, of course, you will need to keep unique knowledge to yourself. Whether it is how to execute a complex algorithm or how to make the printer work, being a “linchpin” means being the only one who can do a certain thing or things.
Many have already criticised this trend, but now these critics are backed up by facts. A study published in January by researchers at Bocconi University found that workers sharing knowledge and learning from those with different skillsets lead to more productive companies that come up with more unique ideas.
Now that this new evidence has come to light, we can explore the myriad ways that teaching and learning are paramount to the further success of business.
Two, three, or four heads are better than one
Despite the Linchpin-inspired trends, many companies have advocated knowledge sharing for a long time, often making the most of this open company culture in times of need.
Dow Jones, the owners of the Wall Street Journal, turned their newspaper from a respected broadsheet, struggling to profit from its online version, into the news site with more paid subscribers than any other. They did this by hiring many of the brightest minds in the emerging online content sector, and, crucially, encouraged them to share their knowledge amongst themselves and with the wider company.
Aside from helping businesses solve problems, knowledge sharing can benefit businesses, increase employee engagement and foster creativity through teaching, as discussed in this post on Business2Community. Since employees will be encouraged to share ideas, sparks of inspiration will fly, and many will collide into fiery and creative innovations.
When is this knowledge sharing most important?
As the Wall Street Journal learned when they entered the online arena, knowledge sharing is of paramount importance to any industry where keeping up with the latest developments is key. Take SAP, for example. SAP is a type of enterprise management that involves utilising cloud databases to coordinate operations between departments in large companies.
Since SAP technicians are always coming up with new ways to implement the latest SAP technology, those in the industry can only stay relevant if they network with each other and share the latest developments and configurations. SAP recruitment firm Eursap list networking and keeping up to date with the latest SAP developments as two of the top five tips to secure an SAP job.
Though businesses teaching and learning within their own company is no doubt useful, sharing your knowledge outwards to others can also be important.
FE can play a useful role in knowledge sharing
Sharing knowledge outside of your business too will help position you and your company as an industry leader, increasing your brand awareness and authority. This will directly impact your relationships with clients and customers, increasing their trust in your capabilities.
With a wealth of real world experience, industry experts make for knowledgeable teachers and many are in high demand in the further education (FE) sector.
While online articles and guest posting is one important way of building your authority, practical work is a popular, but largely untapped, market. AoC Jobs, an FE jobs platform, have called for more leaders from outside the further education sector to work as lecturers, teachers and technicians. The skills and experience, in tandem with the expert knowledge of an industry, makes this invaluable for FE colleges and their students.
Doing this work, even if it’s only part time or reserved for senior members of a business, is good PR. It shows both a willingness to share and an ability to speak on it with authority. It can also help you to distill what you’ve learned into bitesize chunks, which in turn may allow you to create better pitches for new clients.
On the other side, if you are looking to upskill, FE colleges are also the place to gain industry knowledge from those looking to share it. As the Bocconi University paper proclaimed: learning from experts in different skill areas boosts creativity in a company, so enrolling in a further education course covering perhaps an aspect of your own industry that you are not particularly familiar with will no doubt help you look at future tasks in a new way.
How to build a sharing culture
Aside from increasing your R&D budget to send more employees on further education courses, there are several steps you can take to improve your knowledge sharing internally. The Harvard Business Review recommends creating a designated learning space in your office as one of these, as this will indicate to employees that learning on the job is actively encouraged at your company.
Another tip is to reward employees for sharing knowledge. This doesn’t have to mean giving obvious rewards like a slice of cake for each insight shared; simply giving employees due credit for being helpful by contributing should be enough.
Through building a knowledge sharing culture, your employees can forget the philosophy of Linchpin and instead embrace the innovation and creativity that is generated by the free exchange and teaching of ideas.