Different Perspectives and Approaches to Managing Knowledge

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MOS Essay

3. Discuss how different perspectives and approaches to managing knowledge may lead to an organisation’s competitive advantage, supporting your views with pertinent literature and examples.

Knowledge management (KM) is a relatively new concept that emerged 15 or 20 years ago and which presents knowledge as a process, rather as something that people have. Blacker (1995) himself talks of “knowing as a process”, thus something far more complex and ambiguous than the classical and cognitive views that we could have of knowledge. Moreover, this assumption implies, as we shall see, that management is not neutral or objective but that it is intertwined in power relations and social processes that help to achieve the KM’s goals set by managers. Through knowledge management, organisations seek to fully utilize the knowledge that they possess, to create or acquire useful knowledge, in order to achieve maximum effective usage and thus, positively influence organizational performance. By increasing their effective knowledge utilization, it is believed that organisations can acquire greater benefits and acquire competitive advantage. Yet the ways of knowledge management processes are numerous and various and their effectiveness can depend on the type of organisation that necessitates them.

Acquiring competitive advantage through knowledge management has not a sole possible outcome but many, and this might result in better knowledge practices, improved organizational behaviours, better decisions or improved organizational performance (King, 2009). Here, a first approach to gain competitive advantage could be the management of innovation and this has been particularly explored by Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995). In their spiral of knowledge model, they focus on the creation of knowledge through the interaction of both explicit and tacit knowledge. According to this theory, in order to accumulate and trigger new spirals of knowledge creation, the key concepts are the “socialization” of individuals who all hold tacit knowledge but need to share it, and the need to turn that tacit knowledge into explicit one, using symbols, metaphors or slogans. Ultimately, by internalizing (or understanding) explicit knowledge, individuals integrate it tacitly and this is how amount of knowledge grow in the organisation. Understanding this theory enable us to appreciate the dynamic nature of knowledge creation through sharing emotions and experiences, mental models and concepts. From Nonaka and Takeuchi’s work follows one of the basic definitions of knowledge management: the process of acquiring knowledge from the organisation or another source and turning it into explicit information that the employees can use to transform into their own knowledge allowing them to create and increase organizational knowledge (King, 2009). By following such structures, managers ensure that all individuals and groups in the organisation are constantly in the process of acquiring new knowledge and become innovative actors.

One of the critics which can be addressed to the spiral of knowledge however, concerns the unitarist view. Indeed, there is no assumption that everyone is progressing towards the same goal and pursues the same interests in the process of learning. This might create a gap between what people learn, and the knowledge that is actually useful for the organisation as a whole (CIPD, 2002). This problem is partially taken in into account in the double-loop learning theory (Argyris, 1976; 1999). As he explains, it is not the organisations’ actions which produce the learning but the individuals and their behaviours that lead to learning. By consequence, they may bring biases and constraints to learning situations that do not fit in the organisation’s requirements. They might already have theories of action of their own with which they have been socialized, resulting in different ways of solving problems between individuals or groups: according...
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