Corporate Knowledge. Theory and Practice of Intelligent Organizations

By Fried, Andrea | Management Revue, January 1, 2004 | Go to article overview

Corporate Knowledge. Theory and Practice of Intelligent Organizations


Fried, Andrea, Management Revue


Tuomi, Ilkka:

Corporate Knowledge. Theory and Practice of Intelligent Organizations Metaxis Helsinki, 1999

Around ten years of research discussing resource knowledge and its management show us that we do not understand the process of knowledge creation in organisations sufficiently. Still after this intensive period, we find that knowledge management projects in companies often fail; even company consultants only claim to achieve 25 percent success in projects. Most misleading are knowledge management projects with a high orientation on IT. Even the new combination of knowledge instruments nor the introduction of incentive systems could help to overcome the disadvantageous effects of the first and second generation of knowledge management (distinction based on Tuomi 2002), which were AI-inspired or based on information systems using contextual information respectively.

From this viewpoint, Tuomi's theoretical ideas are still up to date. Published in 1999, Tuomi's dissertation starts with the question: `What do we understand of the limitations and problems of common sense concepts of information and knowledge, and do these limitations have practical implications in everyday organizational life?'

Obviously, we do not understand enough. According to Tuomi, the following indications back up this assumption: First, knowledge management is often seen as a technological issue. Against this, Tuomi emphasises that technology is a relatively small part of any successful knowledge management program. It is still not unusual that `information is often produced without any clear model of why someone would need it, and technology gets too much attention compared to organizational practice'. This leads to Tuomi's second indication, that tools and technologies cannot be utilised without a corresponding practice. In this view, it is not essential that single individuals know and act based on their knowledge. A conceptualisation of knowledge in organisations has to emphasise the link between knowledge and action as the basic constraint of social systems. Knowledge in organisations - corporate knowledge - is socially and culturally embedded, and it can only be generated through changes in organisational activities and practices. Third, Tuomi argues, `that researchers often have been too quick in pointing out that organizations don't have real memory, sensemaking capability and intelligence, and that, of course, human beings are the unique hosts of these cognitive faculties.' The central idea of Tuomi's book the 5-A model of organisational knowledge generation deals with the concept that organisations are collective entities where it is possible to find similarities to intelligence as manifested in humans.

With Corporate Knowledge - Theory and Practice of Intelligent OrganiZations, Tuomi prepares the theoretical groundwork for the third generation of knowledge management (Tuomi 2002) that links knowledge and action/practice to a more effective access to information. Consequently, Tuomi pursues questions concerning what role information systems play in knowledge management; how people create shared understandings about the world; what theoretical approaches enable us to understand how to connect information and communication into action; and how organisational knowledge actually emerges. It is interesting to read that these questions emerge from the knowledge management project `Future Watch' at Nokia Research Center and Nokia Telecommunications that failed in the early 1990s.

To build up an alternative perspective, in part II Tuomi presents and compares current conceptualisations of knowledge and knowing in organizations: (1) the `prominent empiristic and positivistic view' represented by Bertrand Russell and (2) the `constructivistic and phenomenological view' represented by Henri Bergson (based on Vygotsky). With these authors he contrasted two opposite epistemologies: Russell understands the `human mind as an invariant intelligent faculty' and investigates objects, representations and the logic of thought in a positivistic tradition.

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