I’ve always believed that we can learn a lot from children as analogues for behaviours in organisations.

They’re just like us, but usually more transparent about the motives for their actions.

Image by Carol VanHook

A few years ago, I was asked to present at an internal conference for a large Oil Company and had the opportunity to put that to the test.  Tom Davenport, co-author of Working Knowledge once shared his “Kindergarten Rationale” for why children share:

  • You share with the friends you trust
  • You share when you’re sure you’ll get something in return
  • Your toys are more special than anyone else’s
  • You share when the teacher tells you to, until she turns her back
  • When toys are scarce, there’s less sharing
  • Once yours get taken, you never share again


With the help of the of the local team (and the permission of the parents!), we video-interviewed several of the children of the leadership team, asking them questions like “What makes you want to share?” and “What kind of children do you like to share with?”.

You can imagine the impact that these vignettes had when played back to the 200-strong audience, who delighted in spotting which children belonged to which leader, and particularly enjoyed the moment when the 6 year-old son of the Finance Chief said that he only liked sharing with people who  gave him something just as nice in return…

Perhaps we should ask our children some other interesting knowledge management questions:


How do you come up with new ideas?

What stops you asking for help?

What kind of people make group-work easy?

Why do you make the same mistakes more than once?


Wise words might be closer (and cheaper) than we think.