The Role of Social Intelligence in Acquiring External Knowledge for Human Capital Development, Organisational Learning, and Innovation

The Role of Social Intelligence in Acquiring External Knowledge for Human Capital Development, Organisational Learning, and Innovation

Eric Kong (University of Southern Queensland, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4679-7.ch004
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Abstract

Social intelligence can be interpreted as one’s tacit knowledge, ability, and skills to sense and understand the needs of external stakeholders, and constantly interact appropriately with the stakeholders for the benefits of the firm. Based on 25 qualitative in-depth semi-structured interviews across 15 Australian organisations, this chapter examines the role of social intelligence and argues that social intelligence acts as a catalyst to external knowledge acquisition, which can have a dynamic influence on human capital and organisational learning that lead to innovation in organisations. The analysis also reveals that the participants’ understandings of social intelligence were different from those contained in the literature. This chapter argues that the implications of the theory-practice divide of social intelligence in organisations cannot be undermined, and a better understanding of the concept is necessary if knowledge management, organisational learning, and an intellectual capital-view of the firm are to be fully integrated.
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Introduction

Human capital and organisational learning, which often refer to the stock and flow of tacit knowledge, are critical to innovativeness in organisations (Kong, Chadee, & Raman, 2013). External knowledge acquisition provides a powerful source of the development of human capital and internal learning process that often leads to organisational innovation. External knowledge, which can be in tacit or explicit form, may include knowledge acquired from external R&D bodies such as academic institutions, industry associations and consulting firms, as well as government agencies, customers, suppliers, and alliance or contractual partners (Kong, Chadee, & Raman, 2012).

Innovation can be referred as the introduction and creation of something new, often in the form of an idea, skill, product, service or process, which helps to improve an organisation or society (Kim, Song, & Nerkar, 2012; Kong et al., 2013). Innovation is usually the outcome of new knowledge arising out of research and development activities and is essential for firms to survive in today’s competitive environment (Crossan & Apaydin, 2010; Pillania, 2007). Innovation is found to be strongly correlated with knowledge creation and continuous learning (Kong, Jenkins, & Ardagh, 2009). Organisations likely gain competitive advantage over their competitors if they constantly acquire knowledge from outside. However, interacting with external stakeholders for external knowledge acquisition often requires a different set of tacit knowledge and interpersonal skills than those that are needed within an organisation (Boal & Hooijberg, 2000). For instance, external knowledge acquisition may require longer interpersonal relationship building before trust can be established. Social intelligence is defined as “the ability to get along well with others and to get them to cooperate with you” (Albrecht, 2006). It represents a unique set of tacit knowledge, ability and skills to understand and manage others, and act appropriately in human relations (Thorndike, 1920) and thus may act as a catalyst to external knowledge acquisition.

Social intelligence is a multi-dimensional construct that involves social awareness, social understanding and social interactions (Boal & Hooijberg, 2000; Marlowe Jr., 1986). The flow of new external knowledge, particularly tacit external knowledge, may have a dynamic influence on human capital and organisational learning that lead to innovation in organisations. This chapter argues that organisational members with a high degree of social intelligence are more likely to convey accurate perceptions of social requirements and select appropriate behavioural responses in social settings that benefit their organisations most. It, at least partly, provides the knowledge base for the growth of human capital within an organisation and foster knowledge exchange and organisational learning between the organisation and its external world (Kong et al., 2012). In other words, social intelligence helps to facilitate external knowledge acquisition for human capital development by facilitating a constant flow of external knowledge into internal organisational learning processes and allows new knowledge emerge from interactions within and across networks for continuous innovation (Zaccaro, Gilbert, Thor, & Mumford, 1991).

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