Knowledge management and organizational learning – part 1

This is going to be a long running, multi-part stream of thought. Just a warning….

When I think of Organizational Learning, I can’t help but start to think of an organization as something, an entity, that can learn. It doesn’t have to be a conscious entity, think of ant colonies. But why not look at it from the context of it being a “conscious” entity?

Acknowledging the risks and short comings of anthropomorphism, I can’t help but look at an organization – say a corporation – in the context of a complex, conscious system such as a person. Once you’ve taken that leap, you can start to consider all sorts of analogies and metaphors for how an organization works.**

To the point: If an organization is a complex, “conscious” entity, then I submit that knowledge management is the sub-conscious of the organization. Individual members, teams, etc within the organization make up the neurons, organs, etc., and knowledge management is what pulls it all together so the “mind-body” connection works.

The obvious example for people is driving a car. How often have you arrived at a destination only to wonder how you got there because you don’t remember the drive?

In an organization, the analogy would be some process, any structured rote process. The ‘know-what’ of the process would be explicit knowledge that each member of the organization acts on, consciously determined by the organization: You do this, they do that, etc. The ‘know-how’ of the process, however, is the tacit knowledge of the organization, something that is embedded in the way the organization works. The organization just does it, with no conscious thought at the organizational level, only action at the ‘neuron’ level.

to be continued…

** It should go without saying (but I’ll say it anyway): Just because I am looking at an organization as “conscious” for the purposes of this discussion does NOT mean the individual consciousness of the members of this organization is unimportant. If you stick around long enough in the discussion, I hope to get around to how to keep all that in mind to help an organization do what’s best for the organization as a whole and for the individual members of that organization.

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