One of the hardest lessons to learn growing up is how to share… how to share your toys, your candy, and maybe your room with a sibling.
As a child, it is difficult to get past the thought “but, it’s MINE!” We try to hang on with tightly to what is “ours” and, if we are goaded into sharing, we attempt to dictate how we share (“You can play with the toy for 5 minutes ONLY”.) Sharing is made a bit easier for children when there is a perceived advantage to them (“You can play with my toy if I can play with yours.”)
Organizations, especially before the turn of the century, had a very similar approach to sharing.
Organizations kept what was perceived as “theirs” under tight lockdown and discouraged sharing outside of the organization unless there was an advantage to it. In many ways, this is understandable. Organizations have every right to protect trade secrets and should continue to do so.
But what about all of the knowledge and information acquired by an organization and its employees in the normal course of business… knowledge of things like best practices, process improvements, and employee retention strategies? Why can’t this information be shared with others in the industry, or even outside of it?
With the advent of social networks in the last 10 years or so we have seen an exponential increase in sharing, both among organizations and individuals.
I heard a story recently that highlighted this shift in the area of software coding. In the past, software coding was a very formal process, in some ways reminiscent of writing a college term paper. You defined objectives and requirements, did your research, created a structure, and wrote your code in a very linear way. No one outside of the organization ever saw the code that made the software run. In this way, I am sure organization after organization consistently re-invented the wheel by coding software operations from scratch every time.
These days, the climate has changed.
Software developers have taken advantage of all of the ways we can share information digitally with a click of the mouse and huge repositories now exist where you can find snippets of shared code that you can utilize in whatever software you are building. Github.com is a great example of this. Now, instead of writing the next great software package from scratch, developers can take the best ideas and bring them together to create something new, and they can typically do it in a much shorter amount of time.
Those of us in training and development can utilize social networks and internet resources in much the same way. We can ask questions of our Twitter followers and LinkedIn groups, or we can search blog posts and white papers for what we need and adapt it to our own projects, saving time and money in the process.
For example, I belong to an informal group of L&D industry professionals from all over the U.S, the U.K, and Canada who connect via Skype chat on a daily basis. In just the past week, members of the group have shared style guide examples with someone who needed help getting started, and they shared ideas for a theme to pull together a training program that a group member is developing (a great example of crowd-sourcing in my opinion.)
Even 5 or 6 years ago, I would have been waiting for a monthly association meeting to share ideas with like-minded folks. Now, I can throw out my question on Twitter or in my Skype group and have any number of ideas shared with me almost immediately.
The best part about this is that people are sharing their knowledge and ideas without expecting any immediate return on their investment of time and resources. Instead, there is a sort of unwritten rule to “pay it forward” because someday soon you will be the one needing advice.
In my opinion, organizations that try to sequester all of their combined knowledge behind the firewall are focused only on what they could lose by sharing, rather than on all of the tremendous advantages that they could gain.