External rivals threaten the in-group's survival whereas internal rivals threaten the self. People see the two groups in very different ways. They can be defensive when faced with a colleague who has some interesting ideas, lest it makes them look as if they are a follower.
In contrast, employees who glean ideas from external sources have been able to show that they have good connections and access to valuable knowledge. The theory leads to an interesting dynamic that turns much received wisdom about insiders and outsiders on its head: the more people feel threatened by internal rivals, the more they avoid their knowledge; but the more they feel threatened by external rivals, they more they will seek their opinion.
If businesses can find a way to offset the defensive response, in which a rival is viewed as a threat to the self, then they might unlock a more effective, learning culture in their organisations. But they must discover first how ego threats are perceived in their organisations.
Tainted knowledge vs. tempting knowledge: people avoid knowledge from internal rivals and seek knowledge from external rivals
Tanya Menon, Leigh Thompson & Hoon-Seok Choi
Management Science, August 2006, Vol 52 No 8
Review by Morice Mendoza