Harnessing Knowledge Dynamics: Principled Organizational Knowing & Learning

Harnessing Knowledge Dynamics: Principled Organizational Knowing & Learning

Mark E. Nissen (Royal Oaks, USA)
Release Date: November, 2005|Copyright: © 2006 |Pages: 278|DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59140-773-7
ISBN13: 9781591407737|ISBN10: 1591407737|EISBN13: 9781591407751|ISBN13 Softcover: 9781591407744


Harnessing Knowledge Dynamics: Principled Organizational Knowing & Learning translates what is arcane and controversial today into managerial guidance that is sophisticated yet practical. It also complements the many existing management books on strategy, technology, knowledge and systems while addressing a well-recognized and significant void.

Harnessing Knowledge Dynamics: Principled Organizational Knowing & Learning draws from the emerging knowledge-flow theory to provide stable principles to build a practice of knowledge management. It also draws from diverse, real-world experience to provide operational applications of knowledge-flow principles in practice. This book builds upon theory but targets practice; it takes knowledge known only by a few researchers and shares it with many leaders and managers.

Reviews and Testimonials

Reviewed by Murray E. Jennex, Editor in Chief, International Journal of Knowledge Management "Knowledge exhibits some properties of inertia such as tendency to remain at rest" "Knowing reflects knowledge in action" "Learning reflects knowledge in motion" These are three (my favorites) of the 30 knowledge-flow principles that frame Harnessing Knowledge Dynamics, a book by Mark E. Nissen (of course, if you want to know what the other twenty seven are you will have to read the book). The premise of the book is that knowledge management, KM, isn't just about classifying knowledge and building IT focused systems to store, search, retrieve, and visualize it. Rather, KM is more about identifying tacit knowledge and knowledge users and matching them to work processes so that knowledge is directed to those who need to apply it with the result that value is added to the organization. In this view a knowledge flow is the movement of knowledge from repositories, for tacit knowledge this is usually people, to those who need to use the knowledge to accomplish some task. The above principles to me reflect the key issues in KM. The first reflects that tacit knowledge is "sticky" meaning that it is difficult to pass from a knower to someone who needs to learn but doesn't necessarily possess the context of understanding needed to assimilate the knowledge. The second reflects that knowers can apply knowledge to solving problems and performing tasks that are of value to the organization, it illustrates that knowledge has value. The third reflects the process needed to flow knowledge from a knower to a knowledge user. So what is a knowledge flow? The book defines this as the dynamic movement of knowledge between coordinates (between individuals or organizations; or points in space or time.) This is the crux of KM and the book focuses on understanding, modeling, and visualizing knowledge flows; how these flows relate to participants in a work process; and how all of this works together to improve organizational competitiveness. The book consists of two sections each comprised of five chapters. Section 1, Intellectual Basis, builds the theoretical foundation, discusses the thirty principles of knowledge flow, and generates corresponding implications for managerial learning and intervention. Additionally, the section provides models and techniques for identifying, analyzing, visualizing, and applying knowledge flows. The second section, Practical Application, applies the knowledge flow principles from section one and generates 30 leadership mandates for guiding an organization in applying knowledge. Section II uses nine case studies to illustrate, apply, and analyze the knowledge flow principles and to generate the leadership mandates. The leadership mandates are oriented to managers and serve as guidance in applying knowledge flow principles to solving organizational issues and improving organizational performance. The mandates are very focused and detailed; however, my two favorites are the shortest: "Knowledge can be lost and found" "Trust cannot be bought" These two mandates reflect my own experience in managing knowledge. I observed early that employees can be motivated to use systems and perform in a process, but trust was fostered through the organizational culture and the values the organization considered important. Also, while I could motivate employees to perform through incentives, I couldn't force them to share their knowledge; that took a foundation of trust that I alone could not create, either the organization had it or it didn't. Additionally, I observed that people were the main repositories of tacit knowledge. As a consultant I found my job was made easier when I "found" sources of knowledge in the organization I was consulting too, sources they didn't know existed or had forgotten they had. I often tell my MBA students that the main job of a consultant is to find out what management wants then go to the employees to find the solutions that would work as many times they already knew the answers, management just didn't listen to them. The other function I've performed is that of rememberer. As I've gained more experience, I've noticed that there are many times when new members to the organization didn't know what had happened in the past that dictated why we did things the way we did. In these cases I served as a knowledge link to the past, or in cases where I didn't remember exactly what had happened, I searched and found this lost knowledge. What does this have to do with a book review? The point I'm making is that this book is a well blended mix of theory and practice and it does a good job of articulating concepts and issues that many KM researchers and practitioners have intuitively grasped but perhaps not articulated. This makes the book useful for the academic, the practitioner, and the student. Value for the teacher and student is enhanced by a section of exercises and questions provided at the end of each chapter. Value for the practitioner comes from the application cases and identification of leadership implications. Value for the academic comes from the strong theoretical foundation. The next two sections reflect my assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the book. Strengths There are three main strengths of the book. The first is the focus on understanding, analyzing, and modeling knowledge flows. The technique of multidimensional knowledge flow visualization is a useful tool for KM researchers and practitioners. The second is combining the use of case studies with theory to illustrate how the principles of dynamic knowledge flow are applied in organizational settings. I particularly like the use of cases from a variety of different organizational settings. Cases used come from new product development, project performance, technology transfer between a university and a business organization, military applications to warfare, federal bureaucracies, public service organizations and large scale IT integration, nonprofit organizations, a tennis club, and a nondenominational community church. The use of a variety of organizational settings demonstrates that knowledge flow principles can be adapted to any organization and builds credibility for practitioners wondering if this is just another minimally useful theory or a "real world" applicable tool. The third is the inclusion of exercises at the end of subsections within each chapter. The exercises provide talking and review points and enable the book to more aptly be received as a text book. Weaknesses There are three main weaknesses. The first is that the discussion on technology will not satisfy the technophile. I understand and appreciate the focus on people and process. However, for the book to be the sole text book for a general course on KM it also needs to address technology in more detail. Some additional technologies to discuss include wikis, data mining, data warehouses, and Customer Relationship Management, CRM. Wikis enhance communication which would seem to improve knowledge flows. Some more detail needed would be with respect to knowledge representation in databases and data warehouses, knowledge discovery through data mining, and managing customer knowledge through CRM. The second is that the book doesn't integrate well other key concepts and techniques from KM. Social Network Analysis, SNA, is a tool for analyzing knowledge flows within groups and/or organizations that is gaining acceptance. Knowledge mapping is a tool for mapping sources of tacit knowledge in an organization and assist in locating lost sources of knowledge. Finally, I would have liked to see stronger ties between knowledge flows and formulating KM strategy. The third is that although the chapter sections do have exercises, the exercises appear to be the same or closely related. I agree the exercises are good (see strengths) but having the same set of exercises weakens the appeal to students and teachers as it doesn't vary the discussion as much as it could. This can also be said for having cases that vary so much on subject. While they indicate that knowledge flows apply to many organizational settings, they don't allow the in depth look that having nine cases all focused on typical business organizations would have. As an example, having cases that focused on different industries such as retail, finance, health care, engineering, etc. would have appealed to the MBA student. However, I also have to admit that this is a weakness that cannot be solved. It would not be possible for the cases to meet everyone's needs or viewpoints without making the book overly long and tedious. Conclusions I like Harnessing Knowledge Dynamics. It makes a strong contribution to the KM discipline and helps guide the discipline to including the areas of work flow and knowledge flow and enhancing organizational performance. The book's strengths greatly out weigh its weaknesses, but the weaknesses do limit the usefulness of Harnessing Knowledge Dynamics as the sole text book for a general course on KM. I do see Harnessing Knowledge Dynamics as a text for a course focused on integrating KM into organizational work processes, a course that I think should be included in every KM degree program and required for every Chief Knowledge Officer or KM manager.

– Dr. Murray E. Jennex, San Diego State University, USA

Harnessing Knowledge Dynamics: Principled Organizational Knowing & Learning will go a long way toward re-energizing the field of knowledge management. This book takes the reader well beyond the typical compendium of prior knowledge management research and practice. Nissen provides the kind of vision and thought leadership necessary to move students, practitioners, and researchers to a new level of sophistication in understanding the multifaceted aspects of knowledge flows in creating competitive advantages for organizations. The many real world cases provided offer practical insights that add important substance to Nissen's ground breaking theoretical work.

– Thomas J. Housel, Ph.D., Naval Postgraduate School, USA

Nissen's breakthrough book creates the first coherent framework to integrate individual learning, group learning, organizational learning, information technology, leadership and strategy. It includes numerous illustrative examples and provocative self-test questions. Nissen's Knowledge Dynamics framework provides both: a set of guidelines for managerial interventions to optimize knowledge flows for sustainable competitive advantage; and a road map for researchers interested in developing a true science of knowledge management. The book should become a widely used textbook for classes in applied information technology, organizational behavior, knowledge management, and strategy in the knowledge-based economy.

– Raymond E. Levitt, Ph.D., Stanford University, USA

Harnessing Knowledge Dynamics is an excellent introduction on how to organize for effective knowledge sharing, and where to look for opportunities for improving knowledge work performance. Let's hope that the organizational innovations that Nissen discusses are quickly taken up and widely used wherever they will be helpful.

– William Sheridan, InSite Reviews

Harnessing Knowledge Dynamics is of great interest to both practicing leaders and managers. It draws on real-world experiences to provide operational applications of knowledge-flow principles in practice in that it builds upon theory, but targets practice.

– Madely du Preez, University of South Africa, South Africa

Table of Contents and List of Contributors

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Author(s)/Editor(s) Biography

Dr. Mark E. Nissen is Associate Professor of Information Science & Management at the Naval Postgraduate School, USA. His research focuses on knowledge dynamics. He approaches technology, work and organizations as an integrated design problem. Recent research has focused on the phenomenology of knowledge flows. Dr. Nissen's publications span knowledge management, information systems, project management, organization studies and related fields. In 2000, he received the Menneken Faculty Award for Excellence in Scientific Research, the top research award available to faculty at the Naval Postgraduate School. In 2001, he received a prestigious Young Investigator Grant Award from the Office of Naval Research. In 2002 – 2003, he spent his sabbatical year in the Stanford Engineering School. He founded the Center for Edge Power at the Naval Postgraduate School in 2004, and currently serves as Regional Editor (Americas) for the journal Knowledge Management Research & Practice and participates on the Boards of multiple scholarly journals. Before his information systems Ph.D. at the University of Southern California, he acquired over a dozen years' management experience in the aerospace and electronics industries.