Francis Bacon (not the painter) was the first person to use the quote "Knowledge is power!" in 1597 and it is still widely used. A better knowledge of a subject obviously provides a competitive advantage otherwise to be no use for a discipline such as Knowledge Management. So if this is so, why should an organization or an individual feel compelled to share its knowledge. On the other hand, you have the fact that knowledge sharing is one of the key drivers for innovation.
I guess it is quite simple - the basic questions that people and organizations pose themselves when they need to share information are these ones:
- Is the person/organization which asks for my expertise a competitor or not?
- What is in it for me? What do I get out of it when I share my knowledge?
So depending on the situation you will get a different reaction:
- A non-expert in your organization asks an expert for information/knowledge in your organization: The expert will give the information when he thinks that it might confirm its status as an expert (the organization should however also confirm this position - otherwise he will probably not see the point)
- Another expert asks for information: The expert will probably only provide the information when he will expect to get something back in return.
In a strongly competitive environment amongst knowledge workers (see Competitive organizational cultures and knowledge sharing for an abstract of an interesting white paper), I think it can go two ways: either they stop sharing information or they will start forming little groups/niches of people who share information but only within the group and only as long as all the people belonging to this group believe that they will get something out of it. Organizations should provide a framework in which there are more enables then inhibitors for knowledge sharing - so create a culture where knowledge sharing is encouraged and not frowned upon (see The role of knowledge management governance in the implementation of strategy).
Another aspect which I haven't touched upon is the fact that knowledge in itself is not power, rather the application of knowledge in a specific situation is where power lies. The strength of an expert lies in the fact that he can come up with a solution in specific situations based upon his ability to quickly learn new things or on his previous experience.
In an era of information abundance and not information scarcity, not sharing your information works counterproductive since there are numerous other sources out there. It is better to keep yourself integrated in a network of peers/experts which do some of the information filtering for you and to share your own experiences with them. It is through this experience that you can sharpen your ability to learn, come up with quick solutions and filter out the "information diamonds".
PS Some of the feedback incorporated in this blog posting is based upon a similar posting in Dutch - Kennis is macht! Waarom dan kennis delen? as well as Turning knowledge into power (Jerry McGovern).