Standing on the shoulders of giants

Learning lessons from social media that can transform professional collaboration - changes in attitude towards information sharing mean that mobilising your employee’s knowledge to create organisational memory is now a realistic and necessary goal. 

“If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

The origins of this phrase are readily disputed but it is most commonly associated with Isaac Newton, included in a letter he wrote to Robert Hooke dated February 1676. Here he is pointing out that he has seen more and further than his predecessors, not because of keener vision or greater height, but because he spent his life upon their great structures.

So, Sir Isaac seemingly understood that our innovations, feats and triumphs lie on the vast and sturdy foundations laid by our predecessors. So why don’t our organisations follow the same principle? 300 years, 1 Industrial Revolution and 1 World Wide Web later. 

On whose shoulders should we be climbing? 
Our people, the holders of tacit knowledge and the teams they work within. Those individuals, teams and departments who understand the nuances of the processes and systems on which they work - their knowledge is earned over time and is usually guarded with great fervour. And so it should be; knowledge is power, it is competitive advantage and, to the individual it is of immeasurable importance. 

So, it transpires that an organisation is only as good as its willingness to share, collaborate and build on its existing knowledge. It is necessary to point out at this stage that the idea of knowledge sharing and collaboration is not a new one but the capacity to achieve it - regardless of the size or complexity of an organisation - has fast become a reality. A reality that has presented itself due to a number of recent changes. Innovations in social networking have changed the way we share information and filter who sees that information. These innovations have shown that it is possible to connect the world on one single platform and that people are willing to publish very personal information. And it is this willingness to share that is perhaps the most surprising and interesting result. People seem to reveal more about themselves online than they do in person to their closest friends and family. But why? 

Controling the narrative
Why? Because the premeditated nature of online information sharing allows the user to control the narrative. People are able to present their best self. They can share that photo which caught their best light or perfect that hilarious observation that excites them too much to ever adequately execute in conversation. The fact is that people want to leave a legacy behind and these various platforms afford them the opportunity to plan it meticulously and present the best version of themselves. 

Another by-product of the first era of global social collaboration is a profoundly uplifting realisation: People want to share, they want to make a difference. At the time of writing this article a YouTube search for ‘How to tie a tie’ yields 631,000 results, 631,000! These are people who have given up their valuable time to organise, record and share their knowledge with the world much to the gratitude of first-time interviewees nervously making preparations the world over.  

Applying this logic to the realm of professional knowledge sharing is what unlocks the door to your organisation’s knowledge stores sparking the development of organisational memory. The technology is now available to host a secure platform where experiential knowledge is stored and available at the touch of a button. But for those systems to work the collective will to collaborate is essential. That will is the new internet culture and it is alive and kicking. 

Once the foundations have been cemented and your knowledge stores are available to all – staff can see further and with better clarity - standing aloft the sturdy shoulders of your very own giants. 

Luke McAllister

Graduate Kaams Analyst