Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Knowledge Manipulators

This post has been brewing for some time now. Probably ready to be served now…. :)

Knowledge manipulators. Every organization has its share of knowledge manipulators. They are those sly characters who pry, peek, and probe…led by intentions that are far from good. Quite different from people who probe to just find out the truth. Knowledge manipulators’ intentions are not what one would call ‘right’ from the perspective of the company at large and, of course, that of the knowledge supplier. Knowledge manipulators are different from genuine knowledge seekers. If the knowledge seeker intends to further her own interests and promote her own reputation, then obviously she is more of a manipulator than a true seeker. She is doing so to use it to her advantage, may call it her creation and derive sadistic joy out of extracting knowledge from knowledge suppliers - many a time without the knowledge of the knowledge supplier herself!

In the long run, how good knowledge sharing is for the company depends on whether it results in unreasonable sacrifices for some or in everyone being benefited. Is it something that is driven by the selfish desire for credit/career development on the part of the knowledge seeker? Organizations will undoubtedly suffer in the long run when such knowledge manipulators take advantage of innocent and/or ignorant knowledge suppliers and exploit the latter under the guise of helping the organization….under the guise of KM. The knowledge suppliers, when they finally realize they’ve been taken advantage of are bound to let it affect their attitude of sharing and are likely to suspect intentions of even honest and well-meaning knowledge seekers forever. Moreover, their experiences are bound to influence even other knowledge suppliers against sharing! At the end of the day, we have an organization with a growing set of suspicious knowledge suppliers.

So, what is the lesson? What are some of the implications? If you’re a knowledge seeker who has no intentions of misusing others’ knowledge/piggybacking on others’ efforts/usurping the credit for what is not completely yours, then…

- Make your intention and purpose for seeking knowledge clear to the knowledge supplier

- When you receive something, give credit openly and unhesitatingly in private as well as public to the person who shares her knowledge. Be bold in accepting that you’ve borrowed knowledge. You may invest it in various ways, but the knowledge capital belongs to someone else. Don’t put the source of your capital in small print. You’ll be appreciated for your honesty and that in turn will bring more knowledge your way.

- Remember that if the supplier of knowledge imagines (or realizes later, in the case of knowledge manipulators) that you’ve been taking her for a ride; it causes more harm than you might realize for everyone concerned. Not only will that specific relationship be hurt but also the overall knowledge environment in the organization. Keep this at the back of your mind and look for such behaviours. If you encounter it, do everything to clear the skepticism.

- Take only what is required. Don’t scrape the bottom of the knowledge supplier’s mind and give her a feeling of insecurity. Take knowledge but don’t please take the credit.

- If you add value to the knowledge that you’ve received, don’t pretend to be the creator. Be humble and honest about the value you’ve added and be louder about the original contributor. Be self-critical when justified. Your intentions will bring you better knowledge – both from outside as well as from within you. You give what you get. Knowledge will pour into your desk uninhibitedly when people perceive you to be a true knowledge worker – one who respects others’ knowledge and gives it its due.

If you’re a knowledge supplier, the following points may help you assess the situation and the knowledge seeker. Knowing whether the person you’re dealing with is a knowledge seeker or manipulator can mean a world of difference. For you want to neither shoo away a seeker nor entertain a manipulator.

- Is the knowledge seeker clear about why she needs the knowledge? If not, ask for the purpose that the knowledge is intended to meet

- Does it look like/sound like/feel like the conversations have been stage-managed? Ask a lot of questions. Learning to ask the right questions at the right time will expose knowledge manipulators. Listen closely for the untimely ‘chuckles’. Listen to your heart.

- Knowledge manipulators may most probably use one of these two methods - They will either flatter their way to your knowledge or snub you to get it. They are also likely to be insecure which might make them find non-existent flaws in your work. Maybe it’s that very insecurity that made them knowledge manipulators. If you are good at arguing, you don’t need help. If you aren’t, at least try smiling your way through the conversation and if you’re convinced that what the knowledge manipulator is saying is not genuine feedback, just stop listening.

- Publish stuff you know rather than hoard it. Let everyone know what you know. Don’t give it all off to a manipulator and then feel bad about someone else taking credit for your work or wonder how you can prove that the stuff that the manipulator is using to her advantage is your knowledge.

- This may sound contradictory…but life’s like that. Don’t be over possessive about ‘your’ knowledge. Give away whatever you can afford to without sacrificing yourself at the altar of knowledge manipulators. But be careful about stuff that defines you and your work. Those cannot be handed away on a platter to people who will unscrupulously use it to their benefit.

- Finally, rest assured that nature has its way of giving knowledge manipulators their due. They may win the battle but not the war. You concentrate on generating knowledge. Nature has it in abundance. If you’re a true lover of knowledge, there is simply no dearth of it. It keeps coming and it gets better as you give away more and more. :). (reminds me of blood donation in a way)

Let’s discourage knowledge manipulators and pave the way for ‘happy KM!’ :)

Any thoughts or experiences you want to share?

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