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Economy of knowledge

May 4, 2010

repeat mistakesWhy is it that we seem to have to keep learning the same lessons over? Oh, I’m not talking about each of us as individuals, although that is sometimes true for us too. I’m talking about our organizations. We seem to keep solving the same problems that have been solved before; either internally or externally. Why do we do that?

Some of it has to due with ego; you know, not invented here or I can do it myself or nobody can do this as well as I can. So we don’t bother to reach out for help or to lend a hand to others. I think we carry this “rugged individualism” a bit too far in this country. As employees, we should always be seeking a mentor in the organizations employing us. As leaders, we should be looking toward succession planning so we can move on to our next position in the corporation, so should be mentoring candidates.

I learned this lesson early in my career since I always worked for large corporations. There’s a certain economy of knowledge when you find a mentor – the knowledge of previous successes and failures passed on to you. That way, hopefully, you don’t have to make all the same mistakes or take the time necessary to navigate the complex organizational political landscape when you have a solid, knowledgeable guide to help you. So I paid it forward when it was my turn. When I went out on my own, I found ways to be a mentor outside of the corporate environment. I now work with MBA students in a 1-2-1 volunteer mentoring program and assist undergraduate students in an Entrepreneurship program. It is highly rewarding for me and I hope it is helpful for the students as well. It’s again about economy of knowledge. Why not learn from others’ experience?

I think this concept, economy of knowledge, is what lead me into consulting and mentoring in the first place. I believe that any consultant worth hiring is one who’s goal is to make sure that they don’t walk out the door with the knowledge they came in with and/or developed in working on your project. Their goal should be to institutionalize, as much as possible, the information, knowledge, skills, business models and/or procedures that were developed in working with your team. Their task isn’t to set up the next project for you to hire them, it’s to make sure your organization grows through economy of knowledge.

What does your organization do to make sure you institute a sense of economy of knowledge? How do you organize, disseminate and update the corporate knowledge, wisdom and culture of your company? Do you insist that consultants (and you should consider using consultants when appropriate) add to your store of wisdom rather than walk out the door with it? Are your employees building your knowledge base? If not, you will be doomed to redundant effort.

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