Emerging Knowledge Phenomena

Emerging Knowledge Phenomena

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4727-5.ch011
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This introductory chapter outlines an approach to harnessing the power of dynamic knowledge principles for competitive advantage in our current, technology-driven and socially connected world. The authors begin their consideration of emerging phenomena here.
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Whenever using the term emerging in an enduring medium such as this book, one must be careful, for people are likely to read these words long after they have been written and published. Phenomena that may be emerging today are likely to have emerged already in the near future, and they may have even become conventional wisdom by sometime in the far future.

This pertains in particular to technological discussions, for the kinds of technologies associated most commonly with knowledge dynamics change relatively quickly (e.g., consider Moore’s Law). I recall, for instance, a team of prominent researchers publishing an article in the 1990s that specified an advanced-at-the-time computer processor (i.e., xx486) used in their work; these researchers were trying to emphasize how “advanced” their research technology was. Reading this article today makes such emphasis laughable, however, for that specific technology has been obsolete for twenty years. I look back on the article today, saying, “pfffft: xx486; how quaint.”

People and organizations, on the other hand, do not change anywhere nearly as quickly. The Bible and other ancient writings, for instance, have described most people as being self interested from time immemorial, yet such self interest remains the focus today of much current thinking in terms of how to organize, incentivize, lead and manage people effectively. Indeed, Adam Smith’s famous Invisible Hand that underlies modern economics is predicated upon people pursuing their individual self interests (yet benefitting the economy as a whole; see McCreadie, 2009). As another instance, these and other ancient writings have characterized the Hierarchy as the most prominent organizational form since the first accumulations and concentrations of organizational power, yet the Hierarchy today remains the most common approach to organization still, particularly for large collectivities. Because the emerging phenomena that we address in this third part of the book involve people and organizations, in addition to technologies, their corresponding knowledge dynamics affect a mix of both quickly and slowly changing elements.

It is helpful at this point to make a distinction between emerging technologies and emerging phenomena. Emerging technologies, for the most part, are the product of scientific discovery and engineering innovation. Emerging knowledge and information technologies, in particular, are also IT-centric and driven by market forces that fuel relatively short product life cycles. Other emerging technologies (e.g., pertaining to alternative energy, medical diagnosis, warfare)—although not (as) IT-centric or driven to (such) short product life cycles—are similar products of scientific discovery and engineering innovation.

For several instances of currently emerging technologies, considerable attention is beginning to focus on Cyberspace now, which exists solely within IT systems and artifacts, and which involves nearly incessant innovation to enable streams of different offensive and defensive technologies to surge past one another iteratively. As scientists discover new materials, architectures, algorithms and mechanics that enable faster, more powerful and more discrete network and computational effects, engineers apply the underlying knowledge to design, test and field innovative devices and systems that put such effects into practice. Cloud computing is emerging similarly as an IT-centric approach to pooling computational resources in third-party systems, which leverages likewise more capable network and computational discoveries, and which implements innovative devices and systems that put such discoveries into practice. Virtual worlds share much of this same IT focus too, as do social media applications, both of which are dependent fundamentally upon enabling IT, which is driven in turn by scientific discovery and engineering innovation. Within the socio-technical context of emerging phenomena, the technical part corresponding to emerging technologies is expected to continue changing relatively rapidly and unpredictably.

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