Power = KnowledgeShared
Power is knowledge shared. The power of a community of practice is exponentially related to the
knowledge shared by the individual members.
Reid G. Smith
According to the old adage, with synergy, one plus one equals three. The whole exceeds the sum of
The adage led us to wonder if there might be an equation that captures the effect of knowledge management,
combining the power of knowledge with the power of a knowledge-sharing network.
We start with two familiar ideas.
The first is Metcalfe's Law (described in C. Shapiro and H.R. Varian, Information Rules:
A Strategic Guide to the Network Economy. Harvard Business School Press, Boston, 1998).
If there are n people in a network,
and the value of the network to each of them is proportional to the number of other users, then the total
value of the network (to all users) is proportional to
n (n -
1) = n2- n n2, for large n.
The second is knowledge is power.
Let's first see what happens if we assume knowledge accumulates additively in a knowledge-sharing network.
In this case, if each person in
a network knows k facts that are disjoint from those known by all
others, and if this knowledge (sets of facts) is shared among s members of
the network, then each member knows
k + (s - 1) k =
s k total
If knowledge is shared among all members, then s = n and each member knows
n k total facts. Therefore, the "power" of the network
p = n2 k. This is roughly Metcalfe's law with
a knowledge multiplier.
However, the above equation does not account for the capacity of the network to generate new knowledge.
To address this, let's see what happens if we assume knowledge accumulates multiplicatively.
Then, in the case where each member shares knowledge with s other
members, each member knows ks.
As a result, the power of the network
p = n ks.
However, this is an overestimate because it does not account for overlap in the knowledge
of each individual member. If we assume that the overlap is proportional to the number
of members, we get
p = n ks / n or
p = ks ...
Power = KnowledgeShared
While the above equation is certainly not a mathematical derivation in any strict sense, it does capture
our intuitive understanding of the effect of knowledge sharing. The power of a network
is related to the amount of knowledge held by the individual members, how much they share with others
(and re-use from others), the number of others with whom they share and
the capability of the network to generate new knowledge.
For an organization, the equation suggests a few practical steps.
- Hire and retain people
who have a high level of expertise (and therefore a large amount of knowledge).
- Hire and retain people who are natural sharers.
- Hire a diverse population of people so that the knowledge they have is varied; i.e., there is
enough similarity so that they can understand each other, but not so much that they all know the
- Put in place a work environment that encourages and enables knowledge sharing.
The bottom line is power is knowledge shared. Through knowledge management you can increase the power of your
organization exponentially to solve problems, to invent new methods, and to overcome physical distance.
Knowledge Management – The Road Ahead. Presented at "Unleashing the Power of Partnerships", the
2nd Conference & Expo of the Staff Exchange Program of The World Bank Group, Washington, D.C., 9 May, 2001.
With thanks to John Old, David Lecore, Rachel Kornberg, Steve Whittaker and Claude Baudoin.
David P. Reed. That Sneaky Exponential-Beyond
Metcalfe's Law to the Power of Community Building.