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Journal Article

Business Benefits of Non‑Managed Knowledge  pp31-40

Sinead Devane, Julian Wilson

© Apr 2009 Volume 7 Issue 1, ECKM 2008, Editor: Roy Williams, pp1 - 198

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This paper proposes that knowledge cannot be effectively managed, rather that people are so complex and the knowledge they acquire so varied and, even in a room where everyone is being taught the same knowledge, uptake is so disparate that to truly manage what an individual knows is impossible. An effective alternative which allows people to maximise their knowledge (even the bits we might not know they know) is to measure the outputs of an individual: what they achieve. The case study in this paper illustrates one innovative company's design to maximise the knowledge of their employees and how the management‑less structure they recently adopted has had a profound effect on the engagement of their workforce — in their work and on their profitability. The argument will critique the theory of knowledge transfer as the movement of a body of knowledge from one place to another. Additionally it confronts the misuse of the work of Polanyi where theorists have crudely bunched together notions of understanding and the hidden aspects of our knowledge under the title 'tacit' knowledge and juxtaposed these with 'explicit' knowledge, which refers to documented and shared knowledge within an organisation. This paper promotes an approach that follows Coverdale's (psychologist) idea that getting things done by developing skills as opposed to focusing on traditional knowledge management is the premise of the company's success. The anthropological notion of cultural memes is explored, and the idea of agency will be introduced as a useful concept in acknowledging the potential of individuals to unleash their knowledge. The case study presented here is from empirical ethnographic research within a company in the South West. The company has transitioned from a traditionally managed SME with a hierarchical structure, to a de‑centred model for workplace where each individual within the company is responsible for what is essentially like their own mini company within the larger one. The company data (quantitative) from before these changes were introduced compared to the data now (on aspects such as Quality, Delivery and Profitability) tell a remarkable story about the effects of management and organisational structure on individual performance and commercial profitability. It would seem that the best results commercially and in individual competency so far point to a counter‑intuitive, hands‑off approach to KM within an organisation. They point to what is in fact the non‑management of knowledge in the sense that knowledge will not be prescribed or transferred from one person to another, but rather drawn out of the individual.


Keywords: knowledge management, outcomes and application, reification, cultural memes, agency, innovation


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