Can we give knowledge away?

bretagneThere are a lot of articles and posts on the web written by experts about sharing Knowledge. These discussions are mainly pointing out the benefits and risks for individuals and companies and tools that support it. I found one aspect missing I consider as important for everyone who is afraid of or at least reluctant “to give his/her knowledge away”.


When I studied computer science a major part of my curriculum was math. I never questioned that fact at that time. Since then I haven’t used that knowledge often but I own it and at least I can share it with high-school students like my own children and also my friends’ children that are struggling with algebra at school.

One subject I had to learn was “Approximation Theory” and eventually the inevitable exam was coming up. As most of my fellow students I owned a programmable pocket calculator, the standard at that time was the “Sharp PC-1401”.

We were allowed to use our pocket calculators including the programmable ones during the exam. The only condition was that we had to write down not only the final result of each calculation but also all intermediate results.

In “Approximation Theory” you have to calculate the same steps over and over again to come closer and closer (but not exactly) to the result.

Early computers and pocket calculators where predestined for this type of calculation. So I programmed all like 10 different methods we had learned into my “Sharp PC-1401”. Of course I made sure that not only the result but all required intermediate results were displayed for convenient subscription to the paper. The program worked fine.

I discussed this with my fellows and we found that this approach fully complied with the given rules. Someone soldered a cable with which I “shared” my “Knowledge” to other calculators of the same type.

Needless to say, my exam went very well. All my results were correct and I finished ahead of time. Some of my fellows were also successful while others couldn’t use the program because they hadn’t understood how to operate it (i.e. how to make use of my knowledge).

  • As a result I had learned all the methods thoroughly because I had to break them down to a level a calculator at that time could process. I learned them even better than by practicing exercises.
  • My fellow students who also made it utilized my knowledge (I was their hero, at least for while). But did they really learn their lesson? No, not necessarily, but at least they learned to make use of “external” knowledge to succeed in a problem (the exam) they were confronted with.
  • Those that couldn’t use the program received the same bits and bytes of my knowledge as all of us had but unfortunately we unable to make use of it.
  • But most important:Two of them reviewed my code and came up with enhancements they shared back with me. The three of us learned from each other on how to program for faster execution, stronger “user guidance” and higher accuracy. 🙂

In my opinion knowledge is that portion of our brains‘ content that can be transferred trough a cable. It is pure data that you gained by learning it. You selected what source to obtain knowledge from, what knowledge to learn and you filtered it by what you needed or were interested in and transformed it the way it fits best into your brain. Learning Knowledge is sometimes hard work. It is like building muscles by repeatedly lifting weights. You cannot “share” that process nor can you share your ability to combine different pieces of your knowledge in a creative, innovative and maybe unconventional way in order to solve a new problem.

All you can share is the pure data that fits through a cable, in a post, in a speech or on a piece of paper. Then it will start aging and has to be kept up-to-date and to be validated permanently on both sides. „Nothing is as old as the newspaper from yesterday“ is a German saying which holds true for knowledge, too.

Sharing Knowledge can give you recognition and reputation. You can pose with your (knowledge-) muscles. Your personal ability and effort to gain Knowledge and to leverage it to solve problems stays with you. Nobody can take this ability through a cable from you (a least not today) as nobody can capture your soul by taking a photograph of you!

Your value as an expert or even as a human should not depend on exclusively owning a piece of data or on an ability that a programmable calculator or a database has as well.

“Learning Organization”, “Knowledge Management”, … are just interim phrases the are used to illustrate new concepts in an easy way — like the “Horseless Coach”, today known as a “Car”. They will disappear as soon as sharing knowledge and learning from each other has become a self-evident part of our daily work.


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