Why some smart people are reluctant to share?

I am sure you have seen many smart people around you who are reluctant to share what they know.
I have seen many of them up close.

You might think the reasons for this may be:

  • they don’t have time
  • they are selfish
  • they don’t care
  • they don’t have an incentive to do it

I was perplexed on this and over the last six weeks I spent some time talking to many of these smart people to understand what could be the reason. The results were very interesting. The rest of the article is based on those findings.

Note: This is about smart people who are not sharing enough. So please don’t generalize this about all smart people.

In summary,

Smart people want to give their best and as they learn more, they learn that they need to learn a lot more before they start sharing. They learn some more and they learn they need to learn some more. What they forget is that most of the expertise that they already have is either becoming “obvious” to them or better yet, going into their “background thinking.”

Becoming obvious means that there is nothing special about it.

Becoming their background thinking means that they don’t even realize that it’s knowledge. It becomes part of them. For example think about alphabets and multiplication tables. It is in our background thinking and we don’t think about that as knowledge.

Take a look at the following schematic. On the X-axis is time as they build their expertise. On the Y-axis, is the level of expertise.


Think about your own passionate topic on which you are an expert.

(A) You start at level 1. Things are new and exciting and since you are passionate you just realize how much you don’t know and there is a new level of hunger for the knowledge.

(B) You are in level 2. You are at a new level of expertise. The earlier level (Level 1) seems obvious and common.

(C) You are in level 3. You are again at a new level of expertise. The immediate previous level (Level 2) knowledge is now obvious and common. The levels below that (in this case Level 1) is in your background thinking. Remember that what’s in your background thinking is almost invisible to you. You have that knowledge but you don’t think about it.

(D) You are in level 4 – a new level of expertise. Level 3 knowledge is obvious and everything below that is in your “background thinking.”

You can go on. You feel that you are not ready to share the knowledge at your current level and there is no point in sharing what’s obvious. And, what’s in your “background thinking” has become part of you. So it’s invisible so there is no possibility of sharing that.

So, what are you missing?

Two things:

1. The point that what is obvious to you is not obvious to many other people who are not at the same level of expertise so it is worth sharing them.

2. Not noticing what’s in your “background thinking.”  It may be in your background thinking but it’s not in the background thinking of everyone else. So, once you notice this, you can easily package this knowledge and share it.

Request for you: Please make it a point to share more in 2010. Only if smart people start sharing more can we increase the signal-to-noise ratio on the web.