Knowledge Transfer is the wrong concept – Knowledge co-creation is nearer the truth
In another post from the archives (with some updates) let’s look at the common phrase “knowledge transfer” and discuss whether this is the wrong concept.
Knowledge transfer, when illustrated graphically, often looks like the picture below – knowledge leaving one head and entering another.
|THIS MODEL IS WRONG
image from wikimedia commons
This model is wrong in at least 3 ways.
Firstly when knowledge is shared, it doesn’t leave the first head – it stays there. You do not lose anything when transmitting knowledge to someone else. You do not pass knowledge to someone in the same way that you pass money
Secondly, in many or most acts of “knowledge transfer” the giver also learns and gains. A Peer Assist is a prime example – the people who come to share their knowledge often some away with more knowledge than they started.
Thirdly knowledge changes as it is exchanged. The receiver adds their knowledge to the knowledge of the donor, and makes something new and better. In fact, the concept of donor and receiver is probably wrong as well. Both parties give, both receive, and collectively create something new.
Knowledge is more often co-created than it is transferred in a one-way direction.
Think of the following examples;
- A Peer Assist, where peers from all over the organisation pool their knowledge to create new solutions and insights for a project team. This is not a case of one group of peers lecturing to another group; it is a setting for dialogue, where the peers collectively discuss how to apply knowledge from the past to challenges of the present and future.
- A meeting within a Community of Practice where SMEs come together to create best practice, pooling their knowledge to create something new. This again is not a meeting where people sit passively and listen; it is a setting for dialogue where practices are discussed with the intention of co-creating something better.
- A Knowledge Retention meeting between a senior and a junior – theoretically for the junior to learn, but where skilful questioning means the senior develops new insights into the practice. Both parties learn.
- An After Action Review where the team comes to a collective understanding of the lessons from an activity. This is not a meeting where the team leader briefs the team on what he or she learned; it is an all-hands discussion so the collective learning of the team can be identified, discussed and developed.
- People collaborating on a knowledge asset. This is not, or should not be, someone publishing a document for another to read. It should be more like collaboration on a wiki, containing knowledge supplied from many people and from many documents, and combined into something none of the people knew individually. Or collaboration on a checklist or a procedure, making sure the checklist is regularly updated as new knowledge becomes available, so that it becomes the record of knowledge from many many sources and the means to avoid all the mistakes of the past.
In each case this is not the transfer of something from one head to another, but co-creation of knowledge, or co-learning.
Perhaps Peter Senge said it best, in the following quote
“Sharing knowledge is not about giving people something,or getting something from them. That is only valid for information sharing. Sharing knowledge occurs when people are genuinely interested in helping one another develop new capacities for action; it is about creating learning processes.”
The co-creation process therefore looks more like the picture below than the picture above.