5/02/2006

Why Co-workers Hoard Information



Rob over at BusinessPundit links to an article describing new research that shows that Co-workers hoard their ideas. I'm sure glad MY tax dollars didn't go to support research that restates the obvious!

As a public service, I'm going to explain things in simple terms even academic researchers can understand. My normal audience would get the gist of post from the opening poster, but here goes:
People hoard information because we perceive it as a scarce resource, and thus our r-Complex cave-man subconscious brains do it as a survival strategy.
That's it. If all you want to know is the reason co-workers hoard information, you can stop reading now.



The urge to hoard scarce resources is wired into us, as Robert Cialdini brilliantly described in his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. You can't stop me from doing it without truly extraordinary measures, and the scarcer (and thus more valuable) I perceive the information to be, the more closely I'll hoard it (see poster).

So what can a manager do to stop the hoarding?

The concept is painfully obvious, isn't it? Change people's perceptions about the scarcity of information! This usually involves two subprocesses:
  • Lead by example: Don't use information hoarding as a management tool
  • Show people that the value of their knowledge lies in what they do with it.
Everything else hinges on defining the context for the new concept, and then executing the two-step plan outlined above. Have you encountered this problem before? What did you do to overcome it? Leave a comment and we'll all be smarter for your contribution.



UPDATE: In the comments section of Rob's post Laurence Haughton asks:
"Do you have any thoughts on what knowledge hoarding means for business blogs?

I see a link between what you posted and the fact that business blogs are either very short-lived or nitwittery."
I'm not sure which I am, and I'm not well-read enough to comment generally, but I can speak to my own experience. My first post contains a distillation of most of what I'd learned over 20 years. It bugs me that it may still be my best post. It took me more than six months to put what I thought was my most valuable intellectual capital out on my blog. I was like one of those entrepreneurs who thinks he's got a world-beating business concept and so refuses to discuss it without a Non-Disclosure Agreement and then gets frustrated when his idea goes nowhere. I finally asked myself why I was blogging. It certainly wasn't for fame and fortune (although Hugh says that if I bang away about what I care about daily for five years I might do okay). Now I try to post things I find truly interesting and insightful, without concern about giving away something valuable. I'm sure lots of it comes off as nitwittery, since the content often comes out of my head for the first time into the post text.

I think that business blogging may be analogous to the music business. The short-lived blogs, like the one-hit wonder bands, burn through a lifetime's worth of material in short order (the debut album), and then struggle to come up with new stuff real-time. Most new bloggers don't get a lot of traffic and/or comments. I've had precious few of either and would have quit long ago if that's what I got out of this. The road to nitwittery is probably a fork off the crash-and-burn turnpike, and I'm guessing that creating content for content's sake contributes heavily to this problem. Just grind out some old gristle to keep up the stats. I'd like to say I've never done it, but I'd be lying.

The funny thing is that the best people don't hoard their best stuff. My favorite example of this principle is David Maister's site. He hasn't been afraid to put his best intellectual capital out on his site, and to engage people in discussions about questions he gets. He does this because he knows that if his Concepts are valuable, people will pay him well to help them implement those concepts in their own context. [Okay, maybe not his best stuff, but truly valuable material. Care to comment, David?]

I guess it really does come down to Hugh's "blog about what you're passionate about" and not worrying about IP if you want long-term relevancy. I'll never put out anything as good as David or a whole host of others, but if I don't put my best stuff out there I'm doomed to the fates you described.

Does that make you more or less inclined to start your own?

Great Caeser's Ghost!
Reader David Maister responds:
" Yes, Spooky, I would like to comment.

You have it exactly right. My philosophy always has been that to get people to believe that I have someting to offer, I have to actually demonstrate it by showing them. It would be ridiculous bo say "I'm really valuable but I'm not going to prove it until you pay me!"

Your music analogy is perfect. Like many performers and bands, I make my name (but not much money if any) from the albums, once you take into account the time it takes to make them. And like MTV (at least in the early days) as a performer I pay for and give away my videos.

But what I get in return is the chance to go out on tour where I can perform for real people in real time and get paid obscene amounts of money for mixing my greatest hits with my new tunes.

And you know what? Mostly the audience wants to hear David's greatest hits, rather than just the latest stuff. and yes, there are some "cover bands" out there playing my tunes, but good luck to them.

As long as I can keep the balance going between old and new stuff and feel that I'm making a real difference,it continues to work for me.

Check my website out. I give away as much as I can for free - blogs, videos, articles, podcasts, the lot. That's how you become famous and in demand!"


Thanks, David!



posted by Mike at 11:51 AM


5 Comments:

Blogger davidmaister said...

Yes, Spooky, I would like to comment.

You have it exactly right. My philosophy always has been that to get people to believe that I have someting to offer, I have to actually demonstrate it by showing them. It would be ridiculous bo say "I'm really valuable but I'm not going to prove it until you pay me!"

Your music analogy is perfect. Like many performers and bands, I make my name (but not much money if any) from the albums, once you take into account the time it takes to make them. And like MTV (at least in the early days) as a performer I pay for and give away my videos.

But what I get in return is the chance to go out on tour where I can perform for real people in real time and get paid obscene amounts of money for mixing my greatest hits with my new tunes.

And you know what? Mostly the audience wants to hear David's greatest hits, rather than just the latest stuff. and yes, there are some "cover bands" out there playing my tunes, but good luck to them.

As long as I can keep the balance going between old and new stuff and feel that I'm making a real difference,it continues to work for me.

Check my website out. I give away as much as I can for free - blogs, videos, articles, podcasts, the lot. That's how you become famous and in demand!

6:05 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

David,

Thank you so much for the comment. Next time try to be more timely, okay?

I've been a big fan of yours since 1991, and you HAVE always comported yourself in the way you described. That's why we love you, man. That, and because your stuff is better than everyone else's!!

Please come back often!

Mike

9:30 PM  
Blogger Troy Worman said...

Fantastic post, Mike!

5:53 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Troy,

Thank you for the kind words! Encouragement (okay, a kick in the pants) from you kept me going through a period of doubt, and I appreciate it very much!

Mike

8:05 PM  
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