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This post is from the CollabNet VersionOne blog and has not been updated since the original publish date.

Last Updated Apr 19, 2010 — Enterprise Agile Planning expert

Knowledge Hoarding – Tell Me About It.

Enterprise Agile Planning

OK, almost an hour has passed, you’ve banged your head on the wall, you’ve bled a little, and now it’s gushing (figuratively) and you realize … it’s time for the inevitable – asking someone a question. You weigh your options, “Do I send it via e-mail or take the green-mile walk to my unsuspecting peer’s office?” Knowing a face-to-face is in order, you pick up your boot straps and off you go.

“Did I exhaust every option? Did I Google as much as I could?” you ask yourself on that trek to the guru’s office. The moment of truth looms ahead, will I get my answer or will I run into a brick wall of “knowledge hoarding?”

Ten minutes later, back in your cubicle, you find yourself psychologically beaten and battered, virtually three feet shorter – and your issue still unresolved. What just happened? A pure, honest-to-goodness, unadulterated case of knowledge hoarding is what just happened. Believe me, twenty two years as a developer and lead, I’ve seen it happen (or experienced it myself) more times than I even want to admit. Whether you were judged by your peer or your question didn’t merit his or her time, or they were simply too busy – you failed in your crusade to achieve answers. I hate to even suggest this option, but in many cases it’s purely a job security thing. The more someone else knows, and the less “you do”, puts them in a better position. Sad, but true. This practice represents the antithesis of open source. So what can WE as Community Managers, do to alleviate this situation? Well, first and foremost, we need to understand this phenomenon. And what better way to gain more information than to “blog, baby, blog” (a quote I’m stealing from a fellow CM).

Knowledge hoarding – tell me about it.

What side of the fence do you fall? Are you a questioner or a questionee (a word I believe I just made up)? Are you a hoarder? Do you require a warrant for your response? If yes, why? Or are you one too afraid to even ask questions anymore? Believe me, while my bias to this topic may appear to sway to one side, it doesn’t. I just want to know what ticks in people’s minds and why.

Rest assured of my bias as I clearly understand why and when it does make sense to keep knowledge in the vault. It’s the classic case of not giving away a fish when the questioner clearly needs to learn how to fish. But that’s an entire topic on its own – for a future blog. Bottom line here: techno-gurus carry gold in their head and we need the ability to mine it, document it and make it accessible to the world. But until we understand what locks those vaults, we cannot move forward.

My goal and ultimate mission as a Community Manager is to reach out via blogging (or any other means) to solicit as many opinions, ideas and comments on this topic as possible. Open source and the concepts of information sharing are wonderful, but the well-being of our communities resides in the ease of access to this information. But all of that goes in the toilet if the gurus aren’t letting us tap into those super brains.

I’m hoping this spate on hoarding is only the first of many blogs to follow on this subject. So, please chime in. While I accept that some of my comments may hit a nerve or spark a negative reaction – it means I succeeded in my mission. Honestly, I want to hear from you. What is it that keeps a person from answering or revealing to the world what they know, especially when a legitimate question is asked?

No one wants to be belittled in the workplace, but it happens and ultimately (and sadly) for some, the friendly confines of an open office can quickly turn into the inapproachability zone. And as we all know, approachability in the workplace can NOT be jeopardized.

I’ve seen and heard it all. Was the question deemed too stupid to answer? Was the person deemed too stupid to merit an answer? Or what I find the most offensive – the person was judged without reference to the issue at matter. Then there’s the flip side – did the questioner not do his/her homework on the subject matter?

The list goes on and on. I don’t want to date myself too much, but back in the day, teachers would preach (relentlessly) to ask, ask, ask and assured every one that no question was a stupid one. But now, in today’s crazy and hectic technological office paradigms, that statement doesn’t always hold true. Makes me wonder where we’re headed mentally as communities into the 21st century.  What do you think?  Or does that question not merit a response?

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