Enabling the Exploitation of Tacit Knowledge: Open Issues and Opportunities

AUTHOR
Lampropoulos Nikolaos, Michalakos Sotiris, Anagnostopoulos Achilleas and Pouloudi Nancy

ABSTRACT

During the last decade several different approaches towards knowledge management have been promoted. Whilst these approaches/theories rely on a fairly solid theoretical framework, in real life numerous challenges have to be addressed and resolved. These challenges are inextricably linked with the nature of knowledge. Although collecting and storing explicit knowledge is a relatively easy task, the same cannot be asserted in the case of tacit knowledge [Polanyi, 1966]. Yet, it is tacit knowledge that, arguably, constitutes the basis for sustainable competitive advantage. The importance of efficiently collecting and storing tacit knowledge, therefore, can be critical, particularly for large, multinational organizations. Information systems have the potential to support and facilitate the collection and dissemination of knowledge in the organizational environment. This is because -unlike pure human contact- they enable storing, and thus reusing and learning from previously used knowledge.

However, storing tacit knowledge using electronic means is a challenging endeavor. This can be explained by the “duality” of tacit knowledge [Stenmark, 2000]. That is, tacit knowledge is perceived by organizations to have high value, while at the same time it is elusive. Elusiveness emerges when knowledge workers are not aware of the volume of knowledge they possess or they cannot estimate the exact volume and significance of their knowledge. Sometimes, they might not even be able to express and communicate the gist that lies behind their ideas. Yet, because of the high value associated with tacit knowledge in organizations, stakeholders benefit from thinking of tacit knowledge as their personal intellectual property. It is therefore likely that stakeholders may also refuse to share their knowledge [Cole-Gomoski, 1997; Kolekovski, 2003], not least because they are concerned that it may be “stolen” by colleagues or misused.

In view of these challenges, this paper aims to discuss and address some of the issues pertaining to the design of an information system that enables the exploitation of tacit knowledge within an organization. Such a system would need to enable the exchange of knowledge amongst stakeholders but also exploit the available knowledge resources in existing and/or legacy systems. In addition, the organization would need to provide “knowledge workers” with access to the system, so that they can express and store their ideas. The collected ideas would be then processed so as to generate organizational knowledge. The accumulated knowledge could be exploited as a potential tool for enhancing existing working procedures and increase the organizational efficiency. At the same time, proposing such an information system presumes an appreciation of several organizational factors, including the organizational culture and stakeholders’ reluctance towards sharing.

To cope with the complexity of this research problem in this paper, we introduce the notion of Cognitive Information resources (CIRs), a category of information resources that constitute the product of an analytical and synthetic process involving the human mind, which ultimately enables the transition from raw information to knowledge. We then probe into the most common reasons, why stakeholders hesitate to share their non tangible knowledge.

Subsequently, we discuss the major benefits of collecting and disseminating cognitive information resources from the perspective of “knowledge workers” and the organization as an entity. First, “knowledge workers” can and should incorporate CIRs in their working habits, in order to boost their efficiency and reduce the required time for completing complex and knowledge-demanding tasks. In addition, the ability to tap into a vast pool of knowledge could serve as a means to personal learning and growth. Finally, knowledge workers, parallel to their contribution to organizational knowledge, may gain recognition and respect from their co-workers.

Second, from the perspective of organizations, CIRs are also beneficial. To begin with, an organization may combine its experience and culture with knowledge assets in a unique way. Organizations could ultimately transform into a “hive” of innovative ideas and creativity, setting the basis for obtaining a sustainable and non copy-able competitive advantage.

Furthermore, in this paper we elaborate on the issues that arise when CIRs are dispersed into diverse cultures, as in the case of multinational corporations. We argue that a prerequisite for the effective CIR generation, capture and diffusion is the existence of a common cultural set. This cultural set constitutes an ‘amalgamation’ of the different backgrounds, mindsets and personal beliefs that reflect on each “knowledge worker’s” unique identity.

In the final part of this paper, we propose the main features for a different, more effective knowledge management system that could be used in organizations. First, from a technical perspective, special considerations should be made in order to ensure the smooth and unimpeded integration with legacy systems. Second, the system should be developed in such a way that importing heterogeneous resources, as for instance blog content, discussion forum content, instant messages and intra-department reports, would be quick and easy. Finally, the basic philosophy of such a system should be to extend the technical user-friendly environment to an organizational climate which encourages and facilitates the sharing and storage of knowledge. We contend that allowing users to freely edit, review or comment on the available information is a primary factor for the success of such a system. However, the success of such a system is contingent on the organizational culture. Therefore the successful integration of an information system that enables the exploitation of tacit knowledge is also dependent on the ability to create and sustain an organizational culture governed by democratic and participative principles.

REFERENCES

Cole-Gomoski, B. Users loath to share know-how. Computerworld, 31(46):6, 1997. Kolekofski, K. E., Jr., & Heminger, A. R. Beliefs and attitudes affecting intentions to share information in an organizational setting. Information & Management, 40, 521-532, 2003.

Polanyi, M. The Tacit Dimension. Routledge and Kegan, 1966. Stenmark, D. Turning Tacit Knowledge Tangible, Proceedings of the 33rd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS33). The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE), January 2000, p. 3020.

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