• David Griffiths

Knowledge Management Insights | Self-Determination Theory: the CAR that drives successful KM


Welcome to one of the most important psychological theories ever discovered. Understanding and applying Self-Determination Theory will make you a better Knowledge Manager and leader.


Do you know that Self-Determination Theory is one of critical importance to KM because it holds the key to understanding everything from the motivation to embrace a new KM initiative, to resistance to knowledge sharing, through to knowledge leadership and speeding up learning agility.

Importantly, Self-Determination Theory holds the key to understanding and improving the quality of personal growth and connectedness, which are critical to high-impact Knowledge Management principles of knowledge acquisition, sharing, application and development.


If you want to improve KM engagement, collaboration, creativity, productivity, efficiency and effectiveness, then you need to be aware of three things that will either drive you to your goal or drive you to distraction, CAR.

Self-Determination Theory | What motivates you?


You are a free-thinking organism that chooses to compete and collaborate with other free-thinking organisms. Every day, you make choices that determine your destiny but are you aware of the CAR that is driving your decisions? Because, if you understand what influences you, then you are in a better position to understand the choices that others make when they decide whether to compete or collaborate with you and your KM programmes.


Motivation concerns energy, direction, persistence and equifinality--all aspects of activation and intention (Ryan & Deci)

Consider what drives people to engage or disengage with KM by first answering the following question: what motivates you?


You are probably considering a range of responses to that question. At one end of the spectrum might be a fundamental choice to get out of bed and go to work to make enough money to put food on your table. At the other end, could be something more deep-seated, a choice to engage a passion that breaks the laws of time and space to make time fly. On the one end, you might feel coerced into action (from no control to extrinsic motivation), and on the other, you might have a feeling of something more authentic; a belief that strikes a tuning fork in your soul (intrinsic motivation).

Consider this: when faced with a choice, what brings you to take one direction over another? For example, think of a change programme at work, what brings you to go with the flow and what brings you to resist?  Self-Determination is about your fundamental ability to choose, to make a choice that allows you to flourish - a feeling that your needs are being met. When your needs are met, you feel satisfied, and when they are not the opposite is true. As with you, for Knowledge Management to thrive, you need to understand the CAR that will either drive you to your goal or drive you to distraction.

Self-Determination Theory | Learn about your CAR and unlock the secrets of knowledge flows

The secrets of motivation and, therefore, the secret behind the principles of high-impact KM, are Competence, Autonomy and Relatedness (CAR).

  • Competence: your talent, attitude, knowledge, experiences and skills (TAKES).

  • Autonomy: the extent to which you are in control of your choice

  • Relatedness: the extent to which your beliefs, values, standards and behaviours connect with others

When driving toward a goal, you will experience optimal motivation when the goal:

  • is of your choosing

  • feels attainable - it is within the realms of your TAKES

  • connects with your beliefs, values and standards

You will act to avoid action when you sense a collision caused by the goal:

  • not being of your choosing

  • being outside your TAKES comfort zone

  • not connecting with your beliefs, values and standards

When facing a CAR collision, you might come to an emergency stop, or you might find a way around it. Here, you can use CAR to discover what is going on at the point of sensing a collision. For example:

  • when the goal is not of your choosing, you could hit the brakes where your strength of resistance will depend on the power of external forces. For example, if you fail to comply, will you lose your job? 

  • when the goal is outside your TAKES comfort zone but aligns with your values, beliefs and standards, you might decide to avoid hitting the brakes by engaging in CPD to address any gaps. 

  • when the goal doesn't connect with your values, beliefs and standards, you are likely to hit the brakes.

Now, think about the last time you resisted the need to share knowledge at work; using CAR, what do you discover about your behaviours and actions?

If you want to learn more about self-determination and the human aspects of high-impact Knowledge management, drop me an email and start a conversation (david@k3cubed.com).

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