Try out the new Website!
Try out the new Website!

Knowledge vs. experience

I have always enjoyed meeting new people. Whether it is random strangers on the street, in the park at the bar, in the taxi, it is always interesting and enlightening to speak to people you would have otherwise ignored. In a similar way, I met some very interesting people in Toronto this past week one of whom said something that struck a chord. He said “experience on paper is knowledge”. Let me explain the context.

During one of such encounters, I was explaining that I have been working on my own project for the past two years. The gist of it is to collect data related to international arbitration across the African continent and making it and its analysis available online. As it turns out she had experience collecting data and developing databases and had a very keen interest in knowledge management. What is knowledge management? In short, it is a system with efficient handling of information and resources within a commercial organization.

So now back to the statement mentioned above. As we discussed what knowledge is and how important it is to advance the goal of a company, we talked about how we often take for granted the experiences of employees in a company, especially in African companies, as we do not record these experiences. Firstly we invest very little if at all on the training and personal development of our employees, secondly we know that what we, or our employees, learn as we do our jobs and run our companies is in fact knowledge worthy of being shared. And thirdly we did not think that we could in fact record these experiences. Hence the remark “experience on paper is knowledge”. The main difference between experience and knowledge

There are all types of systems in place for companies to get their employees to transfer their experiences into knowledge as well as creating platforms within the companies themselves. However most of our companies do not do it, there are of course cost concerns as to why the companies do not buy knowledge management tools and software but it is also very indicative of our understanding of what qualifies as knowledge. As a society we have deep respect for degrees and certificates; however, our value for experience is not that high. What we do not understand that, more often than not, companies would sometimes prefer someone who has had long years of experience rather than someone who just graduated with a PhD.

It is logical that employees should get promoted as they gain more experience. However, as these employees decide to leave the company, retire or change position the experience they had leaves with them and is not kept for their replacement to learn from it. Therefore as the replacement takes over, she would have to start from zero, as there would be very limited institutional memory. The main difference between experience and knowledge is that experience is personal and knowledge is recorded, on paper, and can be shared whether the person is around or not. In my opinion, one of the major challenges in companies at the moment is knowledge hoarding. As people feel that their value and job security is directly linked to how much they know, they are not willing to share that information and hoard it as if their lives depend on it. 

I am a big proponent of the “knowledge is meant to be shared” school of thought and encourage everyone to do their part. So if you have not done so already, put your experience on paper and turn it into knowledge and into something that will outlive you.