Knowledge Management and Organizational Learning
William R. King
Katz Graduate School of Business, University of Pittsburgh
For centuries, scientists, philosophers and intelligent laymen have been concerned about creating, acquiring, and communicating knowledge and improving the re-utilization of knowledge. However, it is only in the last 15–20 years or so that a distinct field called “knowledge management” (KM) has emerged.
KM is based on the premise that, just as human beings are unable to draw on the full potential of their brains, organizations are generally not able to fully utilize the knowledge that they possess. Through KM, organizations seek to acquire or create potentially useful knowledge and to make it available to those who can use it at a time and place that is appropriate for them to achieve maximum effective usage in order to positively influence organizational performance. It is generally believed that if an organization can increase its effective knowledge utilization by only a small percentage, great benefits will result.
Organizational learning (OL) is complementary to KM. An early view of OL was “…encoding inferences from history into routines that guide behavior” (Levitt and March, 1988, p. 319). So, OL has to do with embedding what has been learned into the fabric of the organization.
The Basics of Knowledge Management
and Organizational Learning
To understand KM and OL, one must understand knowledge, KM processes and goals and 21 22
knowledge management systems (KMS).
Knowledge is often defined as a “justified personal belief.” There are many taxonomies that specify various kinds of knowledge. The most fundamental distinction is between “tacit” and “explicit” knowledge. Tacit knowledge inhabits the minds of people and is (depending on one’s interpretation of Polanyi’s (1966) definition) either impossible, or difficult, to articulate. Most knowledge is initially tacit in nature; it is laboriously developed over a long period of time through trial and error, and it is underutilized because “the organization does not know what it knows” (O’Dell and Grayson, 1998, p. 154). Some knowledge is embedded in business processes, activities, and relationships that have been created over time through the implementation of a continuing series of improvements.
W.R. King (ed.), Knowledge Management and Organizational Learning, Annals of Information Systems 4,
DOI 10.1007/978-1-4419-0011-1_1, © Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009
Explicit knowledge exists in the form of words, sentences, documents, organized data, computer programs and in other explicit forms. If one accepts the useful “difficult-to-articulate” concept of tacit knowledge, a fundamental problem of KM is to explicate tacit knowledge and then to make it available for use by others.
One can also distinguish among “know what,” “know how” and “know why” levels of knowledge.
“Know what,” knowledge specifies what action to take when one is presented with a set of stimuli. For instance, a salesperson who has been trained to know which product is best suited for various situations has a “know-what” level of knowledge. The next higher level of knowledge is “know-how” – i.e., knowing how to decide on an appropriate response to a stimulus. Such knowledge is required when the simple programmable relationships between stimuli and responses, which are the essence of “know-what” knowledge, are inadequate. This might be the case, for instance, when there is considerable “noise” in symptomatic information so that the direct link between symptoms and a medical diagnosis is uncertain. “Know how”-type knowledge permits a professional to determine which treatment or action is best, even in...
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