Successful psychopaths and targets of knowledge theft

Principal Investigator: David Zweig

Department: Management

Grant Names: SSHRC ; Insight Grant ;

Award Years: 2018 to 2021


We have all worked with them – colleagues who get ahead by taking our ideas, presenting our ideas as their own, and taking credit for our work. This can feel like a theft, eliciting highly negative reactions and behaviours.  The field of knowledge management largely ignores interpersonal barriers that compromise knowledge sharing efforts in organizations. I propose that knowledge theft is another reason why knowledge management efforts might fail.
The proposed research will explore how and why perpetrators steal ideas and take credit from their colleagues. Stealing ideas can be unintended (e.g., cryptomenesia), but for those 'successful psychopaths' who are adept at creating an illusion of success at the expense of others, knowledge theft is yet another weapon in an interpersonal arsenal that is used to get ahead. Drawing on research linking the 'dark triad' of personality and counterproductive work behaviours (CWBs), I will explore how psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and narcissism are related to knowledge theft within organizations. This research will also explore how and why targets react to the theft of their knowledge. Like my previous work on knowledge hiding, deviance in the form of knowledge theft will beget deviant behaviours in response.
This research brings together and extends the literatures on personality and CWBs by exploring how personality shapes counterproductive workplace behaviours among perpetrators and targets. By measuring and understanding knowledge theft and identifying ways to prevent it from occurring, it is possible to mitigate the negative effects of knowledge theft for employees and to enhance the design, implementation, and success of future knowledge management efforts.