Slow Knowledge: The Case for Savouring Learning and Innovation

Slow Knowledge: The Case for Savouring Learning and Innovation

John Tull (Inclusive Capital, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-1969-2.ch014


Breathless announcements of the latest information access devices occupy whole sections of our daily news, itself increasingly accessed online and on-the-go. This reinforces to the manager or educator the conventional wisdom that strategies for developing organisational capabilities inherently involve ever-quicker access and sharing of information—a belief reflected widely in organisational learning and strategy literatures. However, Knowledge Management’s role in translating learning into performance-enhancing capabilities remains opaque; “macro” evaluations are too abstract, leading to recent calls for empirical or “micro” studies. Furthermore, while rare breakthroughs attract headlines and research, customers and clients are mostly won or lost in the more mundane interactions of daily work. The evolution of organisational capabilities and how they rely on the medium of knowledge practices can be unpacked using the construct of an organisation’s “absorptive capacity,” a construct essentially unknown to KM. That construct can be improved by incorporating “tempo” as a crucial design and governance element. Analysing KM practices as supporting absorptive capacity is a new idea that provides both the manager and the educator with implementable recommendations. A detailed case study identifies the four key factors of capability development via KM, highlighting that “slow knowledge”—gearing knowledge processes to the appropriate absorptive capacity framework—can yield more effective organisational outcomes.
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1. Introduction

Even a cursory online browse of the writings of a Sun Tse or Caesar is enough to demonstrate that knowledge has always been vitally important for the effective exercise of organizational capabilities; yet it is only very recently that reseachers have turned to the formal study of knowledge within institutional capabilities. Development of the ‘knowledge based view of the firm’ (Grant, 1996) for the first time added intangibles as an identifiable and valuable resource (Barney, 1991) of the organization. This prompted managerial attention to swing to the issue of how best to manage that resource. Knowledge Management (KM), which began as an initially ‘Utopian’ response (Wilson, 2005) arguably producing more disappointment than success, has since evolved into a more nuanced, albeit fragmented,set of practices that provoke ongoing debate about the relationship between KM and value creation (Easterby-Smith & Lyles, 2003). We need not look far to see evidence that the KM discourse has enduring appeal however; Long Range Planning, a leading business practitioner-oriented academic journal, states that four of its five all-time most highly cited papers feature ‘Knowledge Management’ in their titles—and the fifth addresses ‘Intellectual Capital.’

This discovery of knowledge as a manageable resource is important in a landscape increasingly analysed as ‘dynamic’ (Eisenhardt & Martin, 2000; Teece, Pisano, & Shuen, 1997), where the degree of ‘evolutionary fitness’ of a resource (Helfat & Peteraf,2003) is crucial tosustainable competitive advantage. And yet simply possessing the resource of knowledge doesn’t create that advantage; we need to transform and apply it in some value-creating way (Spender, 1996). New technologies present us with many different ways to try to perform that value-adding; we experience this in the plethora of new ways in which we use knowledge to work, communicate and collaborate. Data-rich mobile technologies even untether the place and time of those activities:

If the iPhone 4, Google’s Android applications, and Tablet PCs are weak signals, we are stepping into a very different world at an increasing pace. (Despres, 2011, p. 25)

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