Thursday, October 23, 2014

I find this NYT article just a bit naive

Surely we don't need professors to tell us about hiding information from your colleagues at work: 
Knowledge-hiding in the workplace is common and takes different forms, some more harmful than others, according to new research by Catherine E. Connelly, an associate business professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and David Zweig, an associate management professor at the University of Toronto, Scarborough. 
Theirs was not a study of inadvertent communication failures. (That’s a research topic in itself.) Rather, the professors examined the deliberate attempt “to withhold or conceal knowledge that has been requested by another member of the organization.” Based on surveys at a range of workplaces, they were able to trace a “continuum of deception” among knowledge hiders, Professor Zweig said in an interview. 
On the least-damaging end of the spectrum, employees felt that they were justified in concealing information when, for example, it was deemed confidential. (Indeed, revealing a piece of juicy confidential gossip could be grounds for dismissal in some cases.) 
Further along on the spectrum, the researchers found that workers might withhold knowledge that a colleague legitimately needs by “playing dumb” — saying they will provide the information later and never following through — or by giving incorrect or incomplete information. 
Why would people act in a way so contrary to their employer’s interests? Because the clich√© that knowledge is power holds some truth, Professor Zweig said. “Even though every organization touts the benefits of teams,” he said, “we’re often rewarded individually for our performance.”
I think there's plenty of things that weren't covered by the article, including the possibilities that the information requested:
  • would be used for the greater glory of the asker.
  • would be used for the greater glory of the asker, without the giver being granted credit. 
  • would be used in the incorrect context and would politically damage the information giver. 
In other words, there is a lack of trust between the asker and the potential giver. Maybe I'm just super-cynical. I do like the authors' suggestion that organizations incentivize team goals, though -- I suspect that those are helpful when implemented correctly. 


  1. Based on training, employers, employers value knowledge but don't really want to pay for it. That, the uncertainty of continued employment (the best way to keep a job is to be indispensable), and the lack of reward for sharing knowledge (or at least the lack of team rewards) seem to militate strongly against people sharing information if they don't have to. (news at 11, except in the NYT?, or to people whose pay depends on ignoring those ideas?)

  2. This is exactly why the concept of teams is bullshit. There is always someone who want's to make themselves stand out and be recognised. I may be negative but >30 years in the pharma industry makes me agree with these two Profs.

  3. Not sharing data seems a clear result of individual ranking of employees at review time. Why would one employee help another obtain a higher rating and greater bonus? One could make a similar argument that under a team based bonus plan there is less less incentive to push harder if you know someone else will pick up the slack.

    Per Galbraith "Under capitalism man exploits man, under communism it's just the opposite".

  4. Information AsymmetryOctober 23, 2014 at 2:31 PM

    Working is the same as the prisoner's dilemma: while collaboration would give all parties the most benefit you can never be sure that your coworker(s) won't defect for personal gain/glory. Keeping each other in the dark only heightens this atmosphere.

  5. I only ran into this once in my industrial career. But it convinced me that an ELN was an essential tool to avoid some of there petty data control.