Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

The Role of Affect- and Cognition-Based Trust in Complex Knowledge Sharing

Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

The Role of Affect- and Cognition-Based Trust in Complex Knowledge Sharing

Article excerpt

Since the late eighties, the field of strategic management has seen a paradigm shift towards the resource-based view of the firm (Barney, 1986, 1991; Rumelt, 1987; Wernerfelt, 1984). At the fundamental level, the resource-based view focuses on firm differences based on resource endowment. According to this view, resource heterogeneity exists among firms. Also, the superior firm performance based on valuable and rare resources may sustain over time if firms can protect themselves from imitation and diffusion. Resources that are abstract, complex, ambiguous, and indigenous to a firm provide sustainability as they are not easily imitated or diffused (Barney, 1991).

Building on the resource-based view of the firm, scholars have suggested that complex knowledge that is tacit and dependent can be protected from imitation and diffusion (Berman et al., 2002; McEvily et al., 2000). This is because highly complex knowledge that is hard to codify and dependent on a specific context or a system of knowledge is difficult to transfer (Teece, 1977). Accordingly, valuable and rare complex knowledge can be an important source of superior performance and sustainable competitive advantage (Spender and Grant, 1996).

Valuable complex knowledge often originates in individual experiences and perceptions (Polanyi, 1966). Such individualized knowledge must be shared throughout the organization for it to become a source of competitive advantage. Hence, the process of sharing complex knowledge within an organization becomes important. Consequently, the question that begs an answer is, "what makes individuals share complex knowledge effectively with others within an organization?"

The overall contribution of this study is to address the above question. Although the underlying process in complex knowledge sharing is multifaceted, trustworthiness is suggested in the literature as a positive factor. However, organizational literature lacks an adequate empirical evidence of the influence of trust on complex knowledge sharing. This study provides a much needed empirical examination of the influence of interpersonal trust on complex knowledge sharing.

To do so, this article starts with a brief discussion of knowledge and trust from the organizational point of view. Next, hypotheses are developed proposing specific relationships between interpersonal trust and complex knowledge sharing. Then, research methodology and data analysis results are presented. Finally, the conclusion is presented with a discussion of implications and the need for future research.


Prahalad and Hamel (1990) suggested that, it is often the quality of people that personifies the core competency of an organization. This is because the knowledge and capabilities of people within an organization are important indicators of organizational competitiveness (Pfeffer, 1994). Accordingly, organizational knowledge and its sharing has become a topic of great interest and produced a vast and diverse body of research (Argyris, 1999; Berman et al., 2002; McEvily and Chakravarthy, 2002; Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1995; Tsang, 2002). Management literature suggests that the concept of knowledge is far broader and richer than the concept of data or information. Following Davenport and Prusak (1998), organizational knowledge can be defined as a dynamic mix of experiences, expert insights, unique know-how, important values, and situational information that provide a framework for analyzing and incorporating new knowledge regarding organizational processes and various relationships with its stakeholders.

For further understanding, theorists have variously conceptualized the concept of knowledge in terms of its tacitness, complexity, and systemic nature (Garud and Nayyar, 1994). Tacit knowledge deals with the abstract and implicit versus concrete and explicit characters of knowledge. Tacit knowledge resides in the form of subjective insights, intuitions, hunches, and know-how. …

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