One of the earlierst life lessons I remember came from a short story I read in grade one or two of the elementary school. Called “Blue Leaves” , it was a story of two school girls taking an art class together. One of them, let’s call her Lena, needed to use a green crayon for a part of her project. She knew that the other girl, let’s call her Kate had two of those. Lena asked her friend if she could borrow one of her green crayons. Kate replied she had to ask her Mom’s permission first. Next time she made a different excuse and so forth. When Kate finally agreed to lend the crayon she lectured her friend on how to use it gently. After learning that Lena planned to color lots of leaves with it Kate couldn’t hide a wince. As if she was in pain. By now Lena had enough and simply stepped away from her. Kate decided to lend the crayon after all, but this time Lena wouldn’t take it.
When the art project was finished the teacher got curious why all of the leaves in one girl’s drawing were colored blue. He learned that Lena didn’t own a green crayon and suggested she could have borrowed one from her friend. Kate rushed to explain that she did offer hers but it was not accepted. The teacher took a good long look at both children and said: “Learn to give in such a way that your gift can be received”.
In this day and age neither we nor our children can relate to the exact circumstances of this story. The shortage of crayons or any other supplies is unheard of for many, but the message is still loud and clear and as relevant as ever. Since their earliest ages we teach our kids about the importance of sharing and succeeding together, but do we practice these same values as grownups?
The opposite mentality is way more common among adults. And the “green crayons” we are most reluctant to let go are information and knowledge. Here are the two main reasons for our behavior:
Fear of Uncertainty
- We cherish our status quo and take a lot of pride in our achievements. We are ready to fight (if becomes necessary) for what we believe we have earned through hard work, our skills, knowledge and experience. That’s why any time we are forced to share those valued commodities with someone else, in the back of our minds we are worried we are giving away our core competencies. We are worried we are introducing unnecessary threats to the certainty and stability of the world we created for ourselves. Our concern could be as broad as minimizing any unpredictability in our life or as specific as feeling job insecurity. The risk could be anywhere from non-existent to a particular candidate competing for our coveted promotion or for the very job we hold. One way or another, the fear of uncertainty keeps us from freely sharing our knowledge.
Knowledge is Power
- We all heard this common saying. But do we really know what it means? Is it meant to teach us that knowledge and wisdom are more powerful than physical strength? Or is it meant to enable us to use our knowledge as a tool for exercising our power over others? That is when people start using their superior knowledge of a certain subject to manipulate situations, hog all of the workplace awards, make others feel inferior and expect to be rewarded any time they share any of their expertise in a workplace.
The results of these behaviors are often win-lose situations when some among us get to keep all of the attributes of success while others end up with “blue leaves” like in the above story. In the end of the day, we all lose, because by leaving knowledge gaps and holes we are creating a weaker team.
Possible solutions are to look into the root causes of people’s fears and eliminate them by shifting the focus of the existing reward and recognition systems. That way those who share knowledge and help others learn, get recognized for their efforts and are given further growth opportunities. We need to place more value on the true spirit of teamwork with team success goals. We should keep on-going communication on the subjects of learning, sharing knowledge, growing together as well as the team goals and reward systems to support the sharing culture.
Do you have any communication or goals on sharing knowledge in your organization? What worked and what didn’t work for you?
Ohhh! I remember the story of The Blue Leaves! The message it carried was one of the first lessons I learned as a child too. “Learn to give in such a way that your gift can be accepted”!
Thank you for refreshing my childhood memories, Natella!
Often enough I have been asking myself: Why are we so reluctant to share our knowledge? Why do we prefer to keep what we know to ourselves? You are absolutely right Natella: fear of uncertainty.
I wish we could overcome this fear
Again a great topic and many ideas to discus. Thanks Natella Isazada.
I’ve just resigned my job because the people more junior than me have nothing to offer.
I think this wouldn’t happen if my managers lead their staff effectively. They should’ve develop awareness of why is important to share knowledge. They should’ve ensure that workers know how to help, and also they should’ve make sharing a requirement.
Thinking about why to share knowledge just few ideas….I think this will motivate us and also push to become better in what we do. It also helps us how to think together, to pursue a common goal and gives us a sense of purpose.
Somebody says something like “if you are the smarter in the room you are not in the right room”. Sharing knowledge helps us to get feedback and generates new ideas.
Monica, I believe you did the right thing by leaving that place. I once was working for a company where I felt that I was suffocating – surrounded by a random bunch of people with no commitment to the line of work we were doing, no depth of knowledge in any area. Yet no one was sharing anything that they did know. I knew it wasn’t a good place for me, but I stayed nevertheless. What happened was, they let me go in the end anyway. So it was not a good idea for me to stay, only wasted my time.
Thanks for sharing Melissa,
The suffocating work situation you described reminded me of Natella’s post on July 11th “To Quit or Not to Quit?” In hindsight, your optimism may have kept you there longer than you should have stayed but I’m willing to bet you learned some valuable lessons along the way that have helped or will help you moving forward. If that is indeed the case then you’re time was not wasted after all. I’m hoping that you’re currently working in a much more rewarding work environment also.
I can understand how withholding knowledge (that we’ve all worked hard and/or paid expensive tuition to gain) can be necessary to protect your best interests as I have done the same thing in the past. For me, it happened while I was a member of a company full of individuals all competing with each other and focused on their own best interests. Sharing info in that toxic environment meant giving an edge to your competitor. My current position is within a company that fosters a culture of open information sharing, mentorship, development from within, and teamwork to achieve goals. The potential of a team that is open and sharing far exceeds that of a group of individuals. The working environment is much more rewarding on a personal level as well.
Jason, I completely understand. If everyone around you is keeping to themselves in a cut throat environment, where does that leave you, if you were the only one sharing the knowledge you worked so hard to gain? Sharing skills and experiences only works in a positive environment where everyone is doing so.
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I too fully believe in the value of sharing – benefits everyone.
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