Academic journal article Journal of Management and Organization

How an Unlearning Context Can Help Managers Overcome the Negative Effects of Counter-Knowledge

Academic journal article Journal of Management and Organization

How an Unlearning Context Can Help Managers Overcome the Negative Effects of Counter-Knowledge

Article excerpt


Customer relations provide a valuable link between customers and the companies who produce the products they buy and the services they use. Every organisational member carries out actions which reflect the existence of counter-knowledge (i.e., obsolete knowledge and inappropriate knowledge structures) which in turn can lead to detrimental effects on customers. A decision to reorientate counter-knowledge takes an extended period of time to produce significant results as this process involves the integration of existing capabilities with newly acquired knowledge. Crucially, however, it also involves the unlearning of capabilities which are no longer relevant. Unlearning is the process by which firms eliminate old logics and behaviours and make room for new ones. With the development of this paper, we intend to address the following question: How can managers help to correct counter-knowledge in order to foster customer relations? These relationships are examined through an empirical investigation of 164 small and medium enterprises in the Spanish construction industry. Our results show that an unlearning context (i.e., the examination of lens fitting, the framework for changing individual habits and the framework for consolidating emergent understandings) is an important solution for the process of counteracting the negative effects of counter-knowledge (e.g., misunderstandings and misconceptions). The results also shed light on a tangible means for managers to enhance customer relations through unlearning practices.

Keywords: counter-knowledge, unlearning contex, customer capital, SMEs

In the last decade and a half there has been a dramatic increase in interest in the concept of 'unlearning' and 'forgetting' in both an individual and organizational levels. While forgetting refers to apparent loss of knowledge already learned in an individual's long term memory and regardless of its usefulness, unlearning makes room for the development of new adaptive capacities at the organizational level (Markoczy, 1994; Nystrom & Starbuck, 1984; Starbuck, 1996). Hedberg (1981) sees the two processes as happening simultaneously and proposes that knowledge both increases and becomes obsolete or is discarded as the situation changes.

The concept of counter-knowledge implies that there is a truth that can be known or can at least be represented by multiple legitimate perspectives. In fact, counter-knowledge represents illegitimate perspectives and the idea that there is no real truth and that every perspective has legitimate meaning in some way even through others may not appreciate its value (Thompson, 2008). False or bogus rumours at a company and untruths about organisations are just some of the examples that describe organisational members' seemingly inexhaustible capacity to believe 'facts' that are nothing of the sort. The creation of counter-knowledge is triggered by an individual creating meaning from a specific event which has resulted in wrong or inappropriate perceptions of truth. Put another way, counter-knowledge reflects a world that is only partially true, which might lead individuals to doing the wrong things right or the right things wrong (Harvey & Lusch, 1999).

In this study we have defined 'counter-knowledge' as the term applied to flaws in individuals' mental models which arise from rumours, inappropriate knowledge structures and outdated routines or procedures that hinder customer relations. If we apply the idea of counter-knowledge to customer capital (i.e., the relationships that an organisation develops with its customers), in which customer relations depend upon a coordinated effort, we find that many managers can share inappropriate assumptions about inappropriate routines or inappropriate approaches to scanning the wider business environment and, also, to defining, meeting and bringing forward customer needs (Gibb, 1997). For example, managers can irrationally drop their prices because of rumours that competitor prices will drop when, in fact, competitor prices would have remained stable. …

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