Knowledge Transfer- The Firm?

Szulanski (1996) discusses something that we have all had to deal with in the workplace- either trying to train a new person, learning a new skill ourselves, or being trained as the new person. What Szulanski (1996) calls this is “sticky information” or “sticky transfer” but really it seems to boil down to the idea that information doesn’t always get into our heads in a way that’s clean and simple. Processing, teaching and learning information is a bit like trying to feed a toddler- some days, the kid comes out spotless and eats like a champ; other days, the kid manages to get covered in food because they missed their mouth, or got things on their hands, or knock over the honey jar in the middle of lunch. It’s the same idea with information- we get it from other people or try to teach it to them, but there are things that happen in the middle of the process that we can’t explain to someone else, because there is not way to explain it to them. You have to pick up some pieces of information as you go, like learning an instrument, a teacher can have you learn pieces, notes, the methods of rhythm and playing it, but the emotion and the actual doing of it have to come from you.

Pillet and Carillo (2015) discuss the idea that people communicate in different ways, which makes sense. Some people are going to early adopt a new technology, some are going to adapt it to their needs, and others are going to struggle with it. I agree with their assertion that email can be quite frustrating, and while it does allow people to communicate over long distances, it doesn’t really seem to help people understand one another. It’s a bit like putting out post-it notes, if it’s longer than that, chances are people aren’t going to read it. I do like the idea that there is more to life than email and that there are further technologies out there for our use that can cause less of the frustration in knowledge transfer that Kamyrn discusses and Mary hints at when she discusses email.

Hara( 2009) touches on this in their book, because some forms of informal knowledge sharing can be more “tacitly” oriented, and thus more sticky. It felt in places as if Hara (2009) was having a hard time expressing themselves about certain ideas, perhaps becuase the idea in and of itself was tacit, causing some linguistic runarounds trying to get there. Knowledge management, though, always seems to link right back to Polyani every time, which makes me wonder, who will be the next big voice in KM  to surpass him? Will there be one? Can anyone do it? I sometimes wonder which researcher will crack the code, making tacit information able to be coded, but that idea also scares me. What happens when people can explain the greater mysteries of life? Will stories still have power? It’s interesting to ponder about in terms of KM, because it seems like each piece tries to tell a new story using pieces of older ones.

Hara, N. (2009). Communities of practice: Fostering peer-to-peer learning and informal knowledge sharing in the work place. Information Science and Knowledge Management (Vol. 13). Berlin: Springer-Verlag

Pillet, J. C., & Carillo, K. D. A. (2016). Email-free collaboration: An exploratory study on the formation of new work habits among knowledge workers. International Journal of Information Management, 36(1), 113–125. doi:10.1016/j.ijinfomgt.2015.11.001

Szulanski, G. (1996). Exploring internal stickiness: Impediments to the transfer of best practices within the firm. Strategic Management Journal, 17, 27-43. doi:10.1002/smj.4250171105

10 thoughts on “Knowledge Transfer- The Firm?

  1. I like your comment here:

    “It’s a bit like putting out post-it notes, if it’s longer than that, chances are people aren’t going to read it.”

    There have been many times I have wondered if my emails have been actually read. Honestly, if I ask for two pieces of information and I get one back, I get frustrated. Especially if I took the time to make the question short, specific, and to-the-point.

    I think a part of it is information overload. We have so many emails come into our inboxes now – spam, promotions, blogs, notifications, etc – that we barely take the time to read them. Sometimes we simply skim them because we assume we know what’s in them, and don’t actually take in the content because we’re already moving on to the next email.

    So, so frustrating sometimes.


  2. I agree! I sometimes get so many emails that is hard to tell which are the most important. I typically read the emails from my co-workers at the branch I work at first and then read emails from anyone else in the organization next. There are some I don’t look at, but they are ones I am certain have nothing to do with me.


  3. Love the references to sticky information. I too read the article and thought the study was awesomely interesting, probably one of my favorite this semester.


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