The Portability of Knowledge

With the complex and evolving nature of the world today, the paradigm of centralized decision-making is a thing of the past. Gone with this monolithic concept is the vertical orientation of our organizations, replaced instead by a lateral model of inclusiveness and knowledge-sharing. In this organization everyone is a valued member and has the autonomy, authority, and competence to make decisions.

Does this organization sound familiar? Probably not. Can this organization exist in our current business climate? I think so… let’s build the case.

What is knowledge and who has it?

According to Plato, knowledge is “justified true belief,” meaning that for someone to have knowledge, it must be believed to be true, it must be true, and the truth must be justifiable. But knowledge is a philosophy that is much-debated so we will accept knowledge to be something we know when we see and experience it.

In too many situations, we manage to the idea that knowledge is only found in those who have authority… but as leaders, we know the opposite is true; knowledge can found at every level of the organization and in every person. In the words of the immortal Walt Disney

We allow no geniuses around our studio

Quantum theory and knowledge

In the world of quantum physics everything is either energy or information, according to Deepak Chopra in his book The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire: Harnessing the Infinite Power of Coincidence. As we come into contact with each other, we share energy and information on a variety of levels. Think about it… do some people bring you down and others lift you up?

Do you read the negative body language of some co-workers while feeling the love from others? At some point we all are either adding value or detracting value within the organization. It’s the same with knowledge. We either add value by sharing knowledge and working together, or we detract value by withholding knowledge in an act of selfishness, or worse, sabotage.

Knowledge as a competitive advantage

Imagine everyone in your organization having the autonomy, authority, and competence to make decisions. In order for this to truly produce a competitive advantage, all three must exist. To paint a picture of this, consider someone who has the autonomy and the authority, but lacks the competence; the decisions of this person may not be very sound.

The idea of inclusive decision-making has become critical in light of the continued importance of the knowledge workers in our organizations. Such a culture establishes the learning organization as being more responsive, customer-serving, and competitively positioned for the future. As Jack Welch, the former chairman of General Electric once commented

An organizations ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the greatest competitive advantage

The lesson of knowledge portability

It’s simple… knowledge workers need to understand how they contribute to the organization. If we, as leaders, fail to empower these workers by providing them the necessary autonomy, authority, and competence, they will leave and carry their knowledge with them.

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review titled Leadership Lessons from India suggests that the source of the competitive advantage for Indian companies is in the people. The authors suggest four specific means for engaging the knowledge worker:

1. Create a shared sense of mission and purpose

2. Engage through transparency and accountability

3. Empower through communication

4. Invest in training

These ideas are not new… Indian leaders simply prioritize these practices and consistently maintain a focus on the knowledge worker.

Leaders across the world need to be able to respond to a simple question: Why should a knowledge worker want to be led by you? What is your response?

Bookmark The Portability of Knowledge

Dr. Hampton Hopkins is President of Hopkins Associates
He consults, writes, and speaks about leadership and organizational development
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2 responses to “The Portability of Knowledge

  1. Great article, valid points. i would like to know your thoughts surrounding the phrase “shared mission and purpose”. Do you notice a growing disillusionment with that phrase and the American worker today? Would you surmise it is because few actually walk the talk of their mission statements or that increased sales/increased profits don’t actually satisfy the “purposes” of most people/workers (with the exception of those who actually participate in the profit sharing)?


  2. Thanks for the comment. I think there is a disparity in our organizations whereby the typical American worker is very removed from the mission and purpose. In too many cases, this worker does not have the autonomy and the authority to act on the mission and therefore is removed from it’s service. However, I also think that many American workers lack the competence necessary to act on the mission as true partners. We need to provide training and empower these workers to use the skills and knowledge they have. But your point in regards to profits is valid as well… we certainly have plenty of examples of organizations whose mission is to serve the interests of the shareholder, often at the expense of everyone else.


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