Organizations and Individuals

Organizations or individuals? Which are more “important” to knowledge management and knowledge transfer? My first reaction was organizations because they seem to have more influence than individuals. However, organizations are comprised of individuals. Argote and Ingram (2000) state that “a significant component of the knowledge that organizations acquire, especially tacit knowledge, is embedded in individual members” (p. 153).  Organizations are nothing without the individual members that comprise them. It is the people that make organizations what they are. While organizations are comprised of individuals, it is also comprised of groups formed within the organization by the individuals. Each level of an organization from individuals to groups to the organization as a whole impacts knowledge transfer and knowledge management. suggests that “organizational knowledge is always organizational rather than individual.”  This seems to jive with what I read in Spender’s article. According to Spender (1996), “individuals cannot be proficient until they are ‘socialized’ into an organization, until they have acquired much of the collective knowledge of an organization” (p. 54). As individuals, their importance to an organization may depend on how soon they can utilize the collective knowledge of an organization.

Two basic categories of knowledge are explicit and tacit. It is individuals that generate tacit knowledge.  Organizations need to be able to utilize both explicit and tacit knowledge of the employees (that knowledge which would benefit the organization). Spender (1996) suggested that “ the modern trend is away from the tacit and towards the explicit, from craft to system” (p. 51). This was interesting to me, because in most of the other articles I have read for this class have focused on how important tacit knowledge could be for an organization and less on explicit knowledge. Now, I am not saying that one form of knowledge (i.e. tacit and explicit) is better than another, but the trend seems to be the opposite of Spender’s (1996) idea. However, this could be because he was writing twenty years ago and the other articles were written more recently than that. Even though that may be the case and the trend may have changed since then, Spender (1996) does not deny the importance of both explicit and tacit knowledge. It is fascinating to see how trends change over time

In organizations, social-collaboration seems to be on the rise. Collaboration happens in groups and social media (of all sorts) can help collaboration occur. Pillet and Carillo (2016) discuss the use of social-collaboration tools in organizations. They state that “in order to fulfill their employees’ collaboration needs, organizations have started experimenting with social-collaboration technologies that apply Web 2.0 principles to corporate settings” (p. 114). It is one thing to implement these technologies and it is another thing to convince people of the need for them to change their habits in the organization. Just because an organization uses social-collaboration tools does not automatically mean that collaboration and knowledge sharing will increase. In this class, we use social media tools in the form of Twitter and blog posts.   I must admit that I was hesitant because I have never used either very much. However, as I started using them more, my habits started changing in regards to how I used them (especially with Twitter). Because I changed my habits, I was more inclined to share knowledge and collaborate with other people in the class. According to Pillet and Carillo (2016), relative advantage and perceived ease of use influenced habit (p. 122). The advantage I got from participating in Twitter was a grade but then the more important advantage for me was the interactions I had with my classmates. After a while, it also became easier to use which also helped contribute to my increased collaboration and knowledge sharing. I may be stretching it right now (if so I claim lack of sleep :D), but that’s the basic idea.

Argote, L, & Ingram, P. (2000). Knowledge transfer: A basis for competitive advantage in firms. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 82(1), 150-169.

Pillet, J. C., & Carillo, K. D. A. (2016). Email-free collaboration: An exploratory study on the formation of new work habits among knowledge workers. International Journal of Information Management, 36(1), 113–125

Spender, J. C. (1996). Making knowledge the basis of a dynamic theory of the firm. Strategic Management Journal, 17, 45–62.

4 thoughts on “Organizations and Individuals

  1. I haven’t read Spender, but it sounds like he had the right idea if you think only in terms of organizations and use more modern terms. Organizations have moved away from “crafting” (that is, artistry and manual craftsmanship) and more towards “systems” (technology, assembly lines, etc). This is actually a move away from the tacit (tacitly knowing how to mix fragrances, woodwork, etc) and towards the explicit (programmed computers mass-producing products).

    Of course, this is harder to apply to organizations which are not in the business of making products. Maybe it is not something which can be universally applied? And maybe I am misinterpreting because I haven’t read the actual article.


  2. Pingback: A Final Perspective on Organizational Knowledge – rhmaxsonlis658

  3. Yuan, Zhao, Liao, and Chi (2013) discuss the adoption of technology as well. They talk about how managers must make a concerted effort to shape social norms to persuade organizational members to adopt new technology. In other words, the “if you build it, the will come” expression has no merit in this context.


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