Institutions that Learn
The purpose of researching the world of knowledge has been to structure systems that allow institutions and the people in them (in that order) to learn. What has been sought is the cause of institutional learning in order to apply it to the micro and macro fields.
Institutions learn from their people and structure learning as a system when they have a concept that goes beyond the financial situation. When that is not the case, the trend to knowledge entropy is at its highest.
When institutions are set up with a purpose in mind, with a clear procedure, whose knowledge is kept within it with a defined action plan that is in the hands of its political and strategic management, then we can talk of an institution organized to learn.
This brings up common names in the scientific field, such as Think Tanks, for the acquisition and structuring of conceptual knowledge, and operational groups for the structuring of working procedures´ knowledge.
There is no possibility of institutional learning for non-structured ventures or ad-hoc groups. It is a prior condition that there should be an institutional “life” that exceeds that of its members.
When institutions are created and managed in developed and emerging countries, institutional learning is relatively natural. When they are created and managed in underdeveloped or marginal countries, micro-cultures of knowledge are needed to operate. In any case it will be necessary to fight against knowledge entropy and its replacement with utopias whose responsibilities do not include the members of the institution. The more developed the culture, the greater the possibility of generating institutions that learn.
Knowledge Management as the catalyst
Knowledge management in organizations follows the same rules as individual knowledge management. Knowledge management aims to cover three aspects of the problem:
- On the one hand, it seeks to gain knowledge on the basis of one’s own experiences and that of others.
- On the other, it seeks to prevent the knowledge that one has from being lost.
- Finally, it seeks to structure knowledge so as to make it easily manageable, accessible and grounded.
Knowledge as an “Object” (In terms of “Object-oriented Design”)
Knowledge is an object serving the community and the individual. If we look at knowledge from this point of view, we will see that it is essential that it should have a clear identity so that it can be used when necessary.
In order to categorize it as an object, we need to be certain about the “class” or “object” of superior order to which it belongs and which are the relations established among the different types of knowledge.
When knowledge has been made an object, one has the possibility of using it when necessary.
Categorizing knowledge as an object is to detach it from personal subjective aspects that have nothing to do with the functionality for which it was developed.
It is only possible to manage knowledge once it has become an object. When the purpose of knowledge is satisfying the need of the one possessing it, then it loses its objective and consequently its concept, hence ceasing to exist as such.
Knowledge objects imply the recognition of their identity and intellectual property so that their use is legitimate.
There are two ways of acquiring knowledge in an extreme form: Acquisition through experience and acquisition through study.
Besides, there are integrated systems that seek both. The question is which comes first.
In unicist terms, only the dysfunction of knowledge opens the mind of an individual to take other knowledge in its place.
Therefore, and based on Piaget’s works, it can be asserted that action unadjusted to the environment is what determines the formation of a guiding principle to acquire knowledge.
The feedback of action results is what allows knowledge to be acquired. Without such feedback there is no possibility of ongoing improvement. Experience and study are the two sides of the same coin.
Avoiding the loss of Knowledge
In the cultures or institutions where knowledge is necessary and valuable, the culture’s trend is to keep it. In underdeveloped or marginal cultures the trend is to lose knowledge and the struggle is to avoid its entropy.
When cultures lose knowledge, they become dysfunctional. But that is not dysfunctional in the marginal role. The marginal has a secondary benefit when things do not work, because that validates its role.
Only if a developing or emerging culture is generated it is possible to avoid fighting against the loss of knowledge, for which it is necessary, among other things, to structure that knowledge.
To structure knowledge in organizations means developing a system that can guarantee the flow of data and information with a logical structure.
Consequently, what make the structuring of knowledge easier are the transparency and the system of benefits offered or available in the culture. Systems increasing their transparency need knowledge not to get trapped in their previous preconceptions.
Providing for transparency is the first step for knowledge structuring.
At a personal level, it means making the individual perform all his actions in public, making it clear what he can and cannot do.
Under this conception, what the individual knows is just an underlying element to what he does and is that person’s sovereignty.
The second step is to assure a system of benefits that encourages the development and use of knowledge.
The benefits systems in developed cultures are based on the incentives provided by those ahead and the marginalization of those left behind, which become absorbed in a subsistence system to avoid social costs.
The benefits systems of emerging cultures are the same as those of the developed, but they do not have an absorption system for the drop outs that are left behind.
The benefits systems of marginal cultures are based on the encouragement of those at the end and the marginalization of those who are ahead who are expelled from the environment.
Knowledge development and its reuse require incentives and a long-term approach. Although results are immediate, they are only solid within a long-term knowledge policy.
On the one hand, Artisan-oriented Entrepreneurs base their success on the personal ability of their staff, rather than on the efficiency of their “systems”. Paradoxically, entrepreneurship driven companies, where the institutional entropy tends to be high, are less sensitive to manage human capital.
On the other hand, Technology-based Enterprisers are more bent to introduce knowledge management as an issue than Entrepreneurs. Companies based on an enterprising model tend to consider the knowledge as a significant issue.
Nobody should lead a human group if he does not have the implicit concept in the mission, the procedure and the plan of action. The Unicist Ontological approach to Knowledge Management opens new gates to the use and reuse of knowledge within the members of the organization.