Editor’s note: In 2007, Andre Saito published a PhD proposing a model of knowledge management competence which could be used as the basis for educating KM staff. As well as being well-written and interesting in its own right, we will be serialising edited portions of his PhD here on RealKM in coming weeks because it explains the fundamentals of understanding and teaching KM very well.
The emergence of the knowledge economy has brought new challenges to organizations, managers and workers. As knowledge becomes more important than capital, land or labor in the creation of economic value, companies have to face an accelerating pace of innovation in products, services and processes. For organizations, that means a move to dynamic strategies and blurring boundaries. The constantly changing environment demands permanent strategic adaptation and the increasingly distributed nature of knowledge requires collaboration with external entities and flexible organizational structures. For managers, that means a fundamental change in managerial action.
Endless emerging technologies, changes in regulation and new market players make strategizing a continuous activity, and the distinct features of knowledge work demand less command and control and more inspiration and cultivation. Workers are similarly compelled to learn continuously, expand their creativity, and collaborate more and better.
The new dynamics of the knowledge economy
New tools for accessing, manipulating and communicating knowledge are making it easier and faster to develop and ever more complex and inter-connected. More people know more things more quickly, with the end result of a growing number of specialists with little knowledge outside their field of expertise. People are forced to rely on others to understand areas they don’t know and to access knowledge they are not aware of. A new culture is emerging, based on values of openness, trustworthiness and generosity, where more and more knowledge is made public and voluntary contribution to the intellectual commons becomes socially recognized.
New models of social action are growing from the ubiquitous network of information, communication and interactive media, with virtual groups being mobilized, for instance, to react to natural catastrophes, to bring down wrongful politicians and news editors, and to advance social and environmental causes.
The rise of knowledge management
The idea that knowledge should be actively managed gained wide popularity in the mid 1990s, after works were published by Thomas Stewart on intellectual capital1, Ikujiro Nonaka on knowledge creation2, and Thomas Davenport on managing knowledge3.
At first, knowledge management received a strong technological connotation, becoming associated with the construction of repositories of codified knowledge and the implementation of information systems like corporate portals, document management systems, and groupware. The large number of failed initiatives, however, soon indicated the need to consider the human and social aspects of managing knowledge.
The concerns of KM as a discipline are closely associated with the challenges brought about by the emergence of the knowledge economy and society. Major topics discussed in the field include:
- Organizational learning
- effect of processes, factors and conditions on organizational learning
- understanding organizational culture
- dynamics of social networks
- Organizational capability
- relationship between knowledge and organisational capability
- constructing and maintaining a competitive advantage
- development of alliances and collaboration networks
- methods for knowledge acquisition and protection
- application of knowledge strategies
As any young discipline, however, KM suffers from conceptual plurality and conflicting approaches. It is still far from having an established paradigm upon which incremental research can be conducted. This antagonism is amplified due to the diversity in its disciplinary roots, which include management and many of its subfields (eg strategy, organization science, human resources, operations, information systems), economics, sociology, psychology, computer science, artificial intelligence, and library and information science.
Moreover, where KM is actually adopted and exercised the concept is broad enough to appeal to a wide range of professional groups, like information technology, human resources, accounting, marketing, and planning. That results in diverse interpretations that more often than not conflict each other when they should in fact complement.
- Stewart, T. A. (1997). Intellectual capital: The new wealth of organizations. New York: Doubleday/Currency. ↩
- Nonaka, I., & Takeuchi, H. (1995). The knowledge creating company: How Japanese companies create the dynamics of innovation. New York: Oxford University Press. ↩
- Davenport, T. H., & Prusak, L. (1998). Working knowledge: How organizations manage what they know. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press. ↩