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?