Knowledge Management: Aspects of Knowledge

By Wainwright, Christopher | Management Services, November 2001 | Go to article overview

Knowledge Management: Aspects of Knowledge

Wainwright, Christopher, Management Services

The debate about the future of management in the emerging `Knowledge Economy' has been developing for the best part of two decades. Yet issues concerning the nature and value of knowledge to organisations can hardly claim to be new. Indeed it could be said that Taylor was amongst the first to formalise the application of (scientific) knowledge to work. However, in an increasingly complex, global and competitive business environment the need for knowledgeable people becomes ever more pressing. The knowledge industries - education and training, legal and advisory services, research and development, political and commercial intelligence have all been in existence for as long as civilisation. So is Knowledge Management simply a case of old wine being decanted into new bottles or do we need to revisit our insights into the role of knowledge as an asset and corporate resource?

Since the 1980's academics and consultants have begun to take an increasing interest in knowledge management issues in the context of improving organisational performance. Peter Drucker identified the impacts of changing knowledge in his book Innovation and Entrepreneurship' (1985). He again raised the economic and social issues of the performance of the `knowledge worker' in `Managing for the Future' (1992). James Badaracco investigated the strategic value of alliances for corporate knowledge in `The Knowledge Link' (HBS, 1991). The subject also attracted attention from Tom Peters in Liberation Management' (1992). Nonaka and Takeuchi have provided us with the `knowledge spiral' model (The Knowledge Creating Company, OUP, 1995). Further issues are explored in a range of articles by academics from various disciplines (see Knowing in Firms, Sage, 1998).

In general terms it is claimed that the nature of work is shifting away from labour and capital and towards information and knowledge (ie knowledge is the new capital of organisations). Technological enablers which support and accelerate this change range from internet and intranet applications, through computersupported co-operative working to knowledge-based systems and the early applications of Artificial Intelligence. The psychological, human resources and personal development interests are also active in areas such as the `Learning Organisation'. Organisations have appointed Chief Knowledge Officers and even begun to found corporate 'universities'. We can also bring the management of `intellectual property' under the `Knowledge Management' umbrella. (see Management Services, Sept 2001). If these developments and interests are to bear fruit then the subject of 'Knowledge' - traditionally in the realm of philosophy - merits re-examination from a management perspective.

There are however few, if any, generally available models to enable the knowledge aspects of organisations to be identified, defined and evaluated.

Developing a multi-aspect view of Knowledge

What is becoming increasingly clear is that there is no simple 'single view' or `single definition' within which all the aspects of knowledge management can be examined. Knowledge is beginning to be understood as an integration of multiple perspectives. The main theme of this article is to explore some of these perspectives and to attempt to provide an integrative (or unifying) model allowing a more complete approach to knowledge management problems to be formulated. The model attempts to demonstrate a 'systematic' approach by analysing 'aspects' of knowledge into their various parts, yet showing that it is impossible or impracticable to `have knowledge' without all (or at least several) of the different aspects of our knowledge working together in a systemic manner. Both faces of a coin may appear to be different yet they both provide a valid view of the same object.

Recent research into the way the human brain works also indicates that whilst there are focal regions (processing centres) for vision, language, emotions, motor control, creativity, memory and cognitive thought, the functions themselves are highly interdependent. …

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