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Surfacing Uncommon Knowledge Within Organizations

The emergence of what has commonly come to be known as the ‘knowledge era’ is changing the paradigm of what creates value within organizations. Knowledge within organizations is coming to be recognized as a key driver of productivity and growth, leading to a growing importance of intangible investment in knowledge.  However, the terms knowledge or knowledge management, are more often than not associated with explicit knowledge that addresses the ‘know-what’ and ‘know-why’ and is commonly available in databases, data warehouses, previous work products, documents, formulae or software. Explicit knowledge, because of its nature, can be captured in procedures, processes and principles and hence it is capable of being widely distributed or diffused within the organization.

But there is another repository of uncommon knowledge that most organizations fail to leverage. This is the knowledge that resides deep within individuals… knowledge that is seldom harnessed or transferred within organizations and unfortunately leaves when people holding such knowledge leave organizations. Such tacit knowledge which largely addresses the ‘know-how’ and the ‘know-whom’ type of questions is deeply rooted in personal experience and is difficult to capture as a codified, documented repository. This knowledge when applied within the organizational context generates new knowledge for the individual. When an individual uses his or her personal knowledge to effectively solve problems or to create further knowledge, it is commonly referred to as wisdom.

Dorothy Leonard and Walter Swap, two well-known knowledge management researchers have called this tacit knowledge that resides as expertise within individuals Deep Smarts. In their book, Deep Smarts: how to cultivate and transfer business wisdom, they maintain that Deep Smarts are as close as you can get to wisdom. Deep Smarts are people within organizations who possess a vast repertoire of uncommon knowledge, stemming from the breadth and depth of their experience. But the key question is how do we capture and transfer such knowledge within organizations? While organizations spend considerable time, effort and money in building their explicit knowledge base, it is not so easy to build a repository of tacit knowledge. To effectively leverage Deep Smarts the first important step is to be able to identify where within an organization does such knowledge reside and thereafter take measures to retain, expand and transfer this knowledge.

Transfer of tacit uncommon knowledge cannot be done through passive learning or teaching. Effective transfer of context sensitive personal knowledge takes place only through sharing and guided experience. For this to happen it is imperative that organizations develop a coaching culture that creates a learning environment where each interaction is viewed as a learning opportunity. This requires a shift from the telling mode to an asking mode and the knowledge creation process forms a system that feeds on itself to create and reuse knowledge and to openly accept input that helps knowledge transfer by providing new insight and information.

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