Understanding 'The New Knowledge Management' LO30369

From: Mark W. McElroy (mmcelroy@vermontel.net)
Date: 07/13/03

Replying to LO30351 --

Hi Chris:
Thanks for your comments. See my responses below.
>I just wanted to check a few points raised by Mark McElroy's outstanding
>reference to New Knowledge Management
>1) I read you to say Nonaka's (Japanese) approach to KM is
>"authoritarian in form. That is, knowledge is justified by an appeal to
>the authority of management."
>If so, I would also regard that as a huge defect. Where I am less clear
>is: where does focus or organisational patterning of a system ultimately
>come in if its system dynamic patterning of human relationships is not
>stewarded from the top. I worked in Japan in the late 80s, and at least
>at that time the role of the top in the culture and identity and deep
>purpose of the organisation was true and very different in its
>implications and duties that top roles in the West. One way in which the
>West has difficulty in translating anything the Japanese say is
>contextual. At least in those days it was true to say that any middle
>manager in Japan would only get penalised if they failed in either of
>thee two things:
> -failing to bring on subordinates
> -failing to pass information on
>Such opposite rules of play makes it hard to go on to translate any
>extracts of Japanese management theory directly into a western context.
>This is also in my view why West keeps on missing the full meaning of
>other Nonaka concepts such as space.
If I understand your question correctly, in the Open Enterprise,
management still has role to play in what you call organizational
patterning. I do not deny that. Rather, I deny that the outcomes of such
efforts are above reproach. They are not.
Next, the Nonaka notion of space, or 'ba,' is manifested in what Joe
Firestone and I call 'The Open Enterprise' (see our new book by that title
at www.dkms.com <http://www.dkms.com/>
>2) My queries continue precisely because I do wish to see a KM of the
>kind you state as follows:" In sum, then, The New KM is the first and
>only school of KM theory and practice to deliberately embrace
>fallibilism. And this, its unique epistemological basis - its
>antijustificationism - arguably makes it the most compelling, most
>powerful brand of KM to emerge thus far. For if human knowledge is truly
>fallible, the last thing we need in business is an authoritarian approach
>to knowledge processing that would have us carry on as though it weren't.
>What we need, instead, is a philosophy of knowledge that allows us to
>continuously hold our ideas open to criticism, regardless of where they
>come from, or the rank of their proponents. This is the credo of The New
>When you say this is brand new to KM, we presumably accept its not brand
>new to LO theory (indeed isn't this what double loop in LO has been
>reminding us of 15 years or more?. If so, how is it KM began without this
>fundamental tenet? I still haven't understood how KM originated with
>these blindspots since so many of the founding fathers of Km seem to have
>been well aware of such LO constructs)
Chris, what you say here is very important. First, while I agree with the
critical nature of double-loop learning as put forward by Argyris and
Schon, a close reading of their work leaves me unclear as to what their
epistemology was (or is) relative to truth outcomes. They may very well
have been taking a fallibilist approach to the subject, but I can't tell
one way or the other from their writing. In OL2 (Addison Wesley, 1996),
neither the words 'Knowledge' or 'Truth' appear in the index.
As for the evolution of KM vis a vis OL concepts, my own observations have
been that (a) KM was concocted by the IT community as new creature of data
warehousing, document management, and imaging from the start, and is still
widely interpreted in those terms, and (2) even those of us who took a
more sociological view of the subject did do before turning to the OL
literature. Of course, many people also took the opposite path: OL ==>
That all said, I do think that KM (especially the New KM) does a better
job off addressing practice at a more granular level than Argyris or Schon
did in their seminal work [even they admitted that their treatment of
practice was 'primitive']. Plus, as you know, our incorporation of
complexity theory into the mix is a KM contribution, not an OL one.
>3) Back in Japan - you say this: The issue, then, becomes the extent to
>which an organization welcomes and encourages judgement or continuous
>criticism of its policies, versus denying and discouraging them. Ouch! I
>believe that the kind of KM theory and practice recommended by Nonaka and
>Takeuchi falls into the latter category, and for that reason it is
>dangerous and irresponsible. Again I just caution about context. I may be
>wrong but my implicit translation of Japanese leadership identity is
> - There is a bond. The top of a Japanese organisation is expected to
>behave as its chief learner; to listen to much younger people , to keep
>questioning everyone's views through such down-up communications
>processes as hoshin planning; because of this bond where people see that
>the top person misunderstands something they are expected to raise it
>privately not to let that person lose face by raising it publicly in
>front of the whole organisation. In the best Japanese firms reverse
>mentoring and 360 degree learning were natural long before the west
>rediscovered them.
Well Chris, I guess I don't have to tell you how I feel about this 'chief
learner' business - not that you're advocating for it, I understand. To
me, it's infantizing, paternalistic, and insulting. What about the
employee's "face" and the importance of not losing IT? Or are some faces
more intrinsically valuable than others? As I said in my article, I
believe this kind of epistemology is "dangerous and irresponsible."

>I love your structural dimensions reprinted below. Over and over, we need
>learning and KM to know each other. In Europe I suspect networks like
>this are doing courageous stuff
>http://www.eclo.org/conferences/2003/proceedings/proceedings2003.htm I
>would most strongly recommend the Kelleher/Cressey reference if people
>here get to it
>In Japan, I think they are not behind in quite the ways you imply because
>they do not position or measure management in the errant way the west did
>as manifest in the worst (ie living system destructive)
>non-transparencies we've seen in corporate America and global western
>accounting (and all its conflict ridden numbers reductionism)
True, perhaps, but Japan still operates in ways that fall well outside of
its means, both in terms of production of waste and consumption of
resources. Like industry and society in America, the Japanese are not
learning as a whole, if by 'learning' we can say, or mean, that living
outside of one's means ought to produce a change in behavior.


"Mark W. McElroy" <mmcelroy@vermontel.net>

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