Shamans in organizations - who are they and why are they dangerous

5 minute read

Imagine for a while that your organization is like a village where there are regular residents and shamans who keep most of the knowledge for themselves. This is a story about them and why it is dangerous, how to manage it and prevent from reaching your goals and causing harm to other residents.

Who are shamans?

Very often shamans are elders in the village which means that they’ve worked very long in the organization. They have broad knowledge of various aspects of it - starting from technology being used, frameworks, languages (often no longer in use in modern environments) and specific implementations, workarounds and other. They acquired it often with hard work, but this expertise comes naturally when working a long time in a particular area.

Different needs of shamans, village and its residents

These people feel a strong need to be shamans and use their tricks every day - especially during a crisis. They do it because they like (as we all do) feel important and respected. Unfortunately, other residents (i.e. employees with less experience and practice) are the ones who keep them important - they go to shamans looking for help, use their services, knowledge and maintain their status. The situation gets complicated and worse when a shaman is away or busy performing his magic tricks (or is not in a good mood) - village and its residents are on shaman’s mercy waiting for his return. This seriously impacts the life of all and causes many problems.

Why shamans hide their knowledge?

It’s simple - they think that by doing so they are able to maintain high status. This, however, is a very risky game and in the long term doesn’t bring much benefits for them.

Is knowledge still treasure which should be guarded?

Nowadays when we have google in our pockets (smartphones) keeping knowledge to ourselves is just silly and doesn’t make sense. Of course, sometimes it is not that easily available, because of a specific implementation of particular technology, some history behind it (those “quick” fixes and small adjustments) and other, organization-specific matters. History shows these kinds of non-standard, custom solutions are often replaced by standardized ones which are easier and cheaper to maintain. And what’s even more important these new solutions come with external support. That’s right my dear shamans - your village may decide to hire shamans from the neigboring village!

End of asymmetry - there’s something more valuable than knowledge

This shamanic approach is getting increasingly stigmatized, as it significantly slows down development of a village and not all residents like (or rather they don’t have a choice actually) to use shaman’s services. It’s dictated by the market and by the fact that we live in (ironically) a “global village” where we have easy access to a myriad of services.

Viva skills!

It’s not knowledge that is coveted and appreciated, but skills. You can acquire knowledge very fast, faster than ever before, but only skills can put it in a good use in particular cases and they are much more valuable. With so many tools, new technologies it’s very important to use them accordingly to specific needs and circumstances, but also taking under considerations other factors (e.g. cost effectiveness). Having those skills is just more appreciated by the village, as it brings more value and visible benefits.

Development assisted with “magic”

A village is a whole ecosystem of connections, but we know from history that putting some group higher than other, because of their origin, skin color or knowledge, often led to revolution. We definitely disapprove situation where someone wants to gain more at the cost of us often justifying it by his alleged privileging. The truth is that any of us can become a shaman (or rather achieve this level of expertise) - “10 thousand hours rule” clearly shows how. It’s our innate need to develop ourselves and become better at what we do. And that’s much easier to achieve with help from others. This is the role of the elders in the village - shortening the path to mastery and removing obstacles that are not visible for inexperienced. That’s just simply better and faster path to prosperity of a village and its residents.

Shaman’s new tasks

What is left for those who possess great knowledge and pass it to others - should they wait for someone to outgrow them and confirm their biggest fear that they will no longer be needed in the village (and maybe even banished eventually)? Well, their main objective is not only to perform day-to-day activities, keeping things working, but also pushing it forward by looking for new opportunities, learning about them and also teaching others. Mastery is a never-ending road and is even more challenging now with so dynamic development and fast-changing world. But are skills really that important?

Instead of shamanism we need something else

There was always something more important than technology, knowledge and all those magic tricks. And it has become even more crucial nowadays in the age of “I’ll google it”. It’s universal values such as dependability, honesty and responsibility. It’s the most precious currency of our modern world - you cannot buy those values or pretend. At the same time, they are the foundations of good societies and organizations. There will always be people who know more, but knowledge is just simple to get. It’s much, much harder to find people with not only expertise but also have proper values. Such people build good organizations, great culture, team spirit and attracts others with similar traits.

End of magic - there comes a time of wise men

It’s time to put an end to magic tricks, hiding knowledge, relying self-esteem and position on it in your company. In a long-term it’s going to impair everyone - starting from shamans, regular employees depending on them, but also the whole organization. Only real wise men have a chance for real respect and high status they’ve been seeking for.

Don’t be like a shaman - stop using your spells and become a wise man!

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