Friday, April 18, 2008

Incentives and disincentives for knowledge work

Matt Moore at Engineers Without Fears takes on the topic of killing-off the conditions that allow for truly collaborative, altruistic sharing of knowledge: incentives schemes and behavioural economics. It speaks clearly to the idea I've discussed many times in the past that once you've corrupted the conditions that make these systems work you are toast.

When people share their experiences, skills or knowledge they either do it in a social context or a market context. If they do it in a market context they will expect to be rewarded appropriately - and if they are highly experienced (and expensive) it will cost you a lot. Conversely, if they do it in a social situation, they do not necessarily expect financial reward (but they will often expect some form of social reciprocation). However once you replace a social context with a market context it becomes very hard to bring social norms back. You are stuck in "**** you, pay me" situation. The interesting thing is that a gift is OK in a social situation provided you do not link it explicitly to money.

The issue with most incentive schemes designed to encourage collaboration is that collaboration is built on social norms that you destroy when you make it all about the money. And most KM programmes do not have enough budget to pay participants for their collaboration at the market rate.

Yep! It's a slippery slope.

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