If You Don’t Go to Someone’s Funeral, They Won’t Come to Yours

We had a wiki at my last company. We also had a rule that people had to post or update their posts every week. We had to have a rule or noone would do it.

At one of my previous employers, one of the world’s largest consulting companies, there was a Knowledge Management initiative. It resulted in a shelf full of process and best-practice manuals. Noone ever looked at them, that I knew of.

So how is knowledge transmitted in learn-as-you-work industries? Through apprenticeships, cooperation with coworkers, mentor/mentee relationships and the like. Through face-to-face trust relationships.

But the internet has changed the nature of relationships. Face-to-face relationships are now augmented by virtual ones and, in some case, replaced by them. Regardless, knowledge transfer requires two things that are usually neglected in favor of tools and schemas: motivation and trust.

Motivation has been created in many ways online. From monetary payment to peer recognition. But, as Yogi Berra said in the quote that titles this post, relationships require a quid pro quo also.

How are trust networks built and maintained in the absence of personal contact?


  1. Sorry – but I don’t see the difference between motivation & trust in this context – please expand.

    But maybe I’m just a tools’n’schemas kinda guy.

  2. Hmmm. Let me think. I’m sure there’s an socio-economic formalism here that I’m simply unfamiliar with. Most of the papers in this area are gated. Maybe I’ll try to get “journalist” access… after all, my blog was recently in the 600,000s on Technorati :)

  3. Oh, I think you misunderstood my question as a deep one. It really wasn’t.

    I understand motivation to be people being satisfied in understanding ‘whats in it for me?’ when approaching a new service.

    But trust?

  4. Trust is important in two ways, and maybe I shouldn’t mix the two, although they seem to be mostly co-present in real situations.

    First, trust as in credentials. People need to know that they are going to be getting quality knowledge without having to cross-check everything. In academia the credential is usually what your current job is, what your previous work is and/or who your co-authors are. You can see how a trust ‘network’ forms here.

    Second, trust as in loyalty. This is linked to motivation. I believe (until convinced otherwise) that people are more willing to share knowledge with those they trust than those they don’t. I would venture that this trust is analogous to certain cultural aspects of gift-economies: my giving for free motivates you to give for free, benefiting us both. I don’t see this as a network effect, so it’s hard to see how to create it online. Ideas?

  5. just had brunch (yes, i know its 5pm) with an OB researcher from Stern. He is currently researching optimal (*) knowledge management. He recommends a text by McDermott & Snyder – Cultivating Communities of Practice. Also Wenger is a well regarded researcher in the communities of practice field.

    (*) Who studies sub-optimal practices?

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