Every time someone retires in an organization a treasure trove of knowledge is lost. Every time an organization discourages diverse opinion, collective wisdom is eroded.

Lewis Frees, of Harmony Inc., has made it his business to challenge organizations to find their "better angels." Frees sees social networks as catalysts for building collective wisdom. He states, "social networks are the central nervous system of collective intelligence in your organization."

Companies have been trying to harvest the knowledge of their employees through the use of technology since the early 1980s. Document management systems, CRM, ERP and other database programs were designed to capture and keep knowledge even when employees were fired or retired. Many knowledge workers felt reticent about sharing information because knowledge they possessed gave them a competitive edge, a hedge against job loss. After all, knowledge meant power. So why share it?

In many organizations to this day when knowledge is shared it remains within the department, an isolated silo in which collective intelligence is limited to only the immediate inside members. So the cross-pollination so essential to triggering new approaches to solving old problems never happens. This is the silo thinking that I wrote about in one of my previous CMSWire article.

Knowledge sharing should be an essential aspect of any organization. After all states Frees, "people trigger each others' best instincts."

Here are seven characteristics of knowledge-based organizations:

  1. Organizational structures are flat
  2. Leaders coach, lead by example and empower staff through knowledge sharing
  3. Decision making is distributed
  4. Staff demonstrate multiple skill sets
  5. Change is embraced
  6. Goals are shared
  7. Rewards are shared

So how do private social networks foster knowledge-based organizations?

Enable Consultants is a creator of private social networking applications. Faith Exeter, of Enable states "a private social network is antithetical to hierarchy. Although a job title appears on the profile, it is there to identify roles and not how the individual is positioned on the organizational chart." When Enable implements its corporate social network application, Workingrooms, every employee is given a profile. Every profile has the same set of communication and knowledge sharing tools. Individuals are free to share their passion for not only the things they do at work but also the things they do at play.

When Frees approaches companies to advise them on the value of social networks he talks about "triggers." Triggers are all about best impulses, flashes of thought that lead to the sharing of ideas to collectively solve problems and "render inspired outcomes."

Enable rewards triggers by issuing loyalty points for sharing information. Every contribution to the collective conversation converts to bankable points that can be converted by the company into trips, prizes, or other incentives. "Points have proven to be powerful triggers in getting those in the back row of the room, so to speak, to get involved," states Exeter. "These are the hidden gems that suddenly become discovered assets within your business," she concludes.

"Contrarian opinions are among the most important aspects of social networking group think," states Frees. He invites companies to encourage such opinions within their social networks even if on the face of it this appears to be counterintuitive.

It's all about widening the discussion, embracing all members within an organization, encouraging them to be contributors to collective intelligence, inviting new ideas, and eroding intellectual boundaries.