Six Common Myths of Organizational Knowledge


Ever watch Mythbusters? The popular television show follows a team tasked with putting commonly held beliefs to the test, to determine whether there is truth behind the myth. Through our work, we’ve done a little mythbusting of our own and found that many commonly held beliefs about knowledge and learning are indeed myths. There are a few stage four clingers that, no matter what research and practical application has done to debunk them, refuse to completely go away.

We’re going to attempt to—once and for all—dispel some of the most common myths of organizational knowledge so that we, as an industry, can collectively move past them.

Lingering Myths of Organizational Learning

KNOWLEDGE MYTH 1: Learning stops when training ends.

Thank goodness this is completely false. Can you imagine what our professional—or even personal—lives would be like if learning was restricted to just every-so-often one-off sessions? And you had to rely solely on those to succeed at your job and, well, life? Technology doesn’t even allow that anymore. If you use Google, you learn. If you are active in social media, you learn. Learning is all around us, and organizations should play a role in that process.

But many training departments stop with the initial training. Why? There’s so much more you can do.

KNOWLEDGE MYTH 2: Mind reading is a reliable way of transferring the knowledge that makes your company run.

We all chuckle when any reference is made to mind reading, because we know it’s not possible. However, when you look at how many organizations approach learning, it’s as if leadership wholeheartedly believes it’s not only possible, but expected. Nothing deflates an employee’s confidence faster than expecting him or her to be a mind reader, then expressing disappointment that they don’t possess critical knowledge.

But lots of institutions make assumptions that employees will learn on the job. Through osmosis. Or something.

KNOWLEDGE MYTH 3: The oral tradition is a dependable way of communicating important information.

You know that phrase “in one ear and out the other?” You can’t rely on verbal communication alone. It’s improbable for the the average human brain to process and retain it all. Furthermore, only 30% of us are auditory learners. These folks learn best by hearing something rather than seeing or experiencing it, and they are in the minority. Sixty percent of your audience needs to receive information by another means, and it’s crucial to account for all learning types.

The problem is the “telephone game” effect. One where the story changes from telling to telling and becomes distorted. If you want the story to remain the same (ie standardized training) then think about ways to facilitate and participate in the knowledge transfer process.

KNOWLEDGE MYTH 4: Smart people should be able to figure it out.

This assumption puts undue pressure on employees to take total responsibility for their own professional development and sets them up for failure. Even self-starters need some direction on what needs to be learned and where to find the best information.

Some tasks are too complicated—or even unsafe—for employees to just “figure it out.”

KNOWLEDGE MYTH 5: Knowledge is innate—you either have it or you don’t.

It’s common practice in lots of organizations to expect employees to “just know” what to do. But how can they? Knowledge is unique to every organization. Nearly all employees have the ability to learn, but every learner is different, and knowledge that is specific to your organization absolutely must be taught.

Knowledge, skills and beliefs can ALL be taught. And it’s important to create a culture of knowledge in your organization.

KNOWLEDGE MYTH 6: Detailed processes eliminate the need for thinking.

You’ve got a checklist, what more could you need? A lot more when you think about how much knowledge each step in the process requires. An employee might know that step B follows step A, but what if they aren’t sure what step B entails? Some on-the-spot knowledge support can improve confidence and reduce errors.

If you're interested, check out ExpandShare's eLearning Services to see how your program can be an epic success.

Will Holland