Knowledge Management and TQM LO21875

John Gunkler (
Wed, 9 Jun 1999 14:26:42 -0500

Replying to LO21865 --

Ed Goad wrote (and several others here have written similarly):

>I really question whether "organizations" can learn, or if there is such a
>thing as "organizational knowledge".

Ed continues with:

>So I would define an organization as a system with a set of rules put in
>place by individuals (usually a key individual near the "top"); and this
>system is affected by the other systems which it is related to; ....

I think you miss an awful lot of worthwhile opportunities if you believe
either statement. To take the second first: Yes, organizations
definitely run by "rules." But far from being put in place by "a key
individual near the top," most of the most important "rules" are not even
known by key individuals at the top -- nor are they in the awareness of
most of the others in the organization. They are part of the
"organizational unconscious" (to use a phrase created by Robert F. Allen,
a brilliant organizational culture change consultant.) But make no
mistake about how powerful these rules are.

Also, the system dynamics literature is rife with examples where "rules"
are embedded in the structure of processes. Some of these rules reach the
level of conscious "policy decisions" but many are just there because
that's how the process came to be structured. Yes, in some cases, there
were decisions made that resulted in these structures being instituted --
but often the decisions had several "rules" that were unintended
consequences rather than being thought out and examined as part of
implementing the process. Look at any example of a system dynamics model
of a business process and you'll find many, many "rate" equations. Each
of these is a "rule" that affects how the system works. You'll also find
many connections between "auxiliaries" and rates or other auxiliaries.
Many of these connections also represent rules about such things as how
information flows within the system.

All of these "rules" are a part of what I want to call the "knowledge" of
the organization. The process of putting these rules into effect is (at
least an important part of) what I want to call organizational "learning."
And these "rules" do not necessarily reside in any person's head nor did
any person "learn" them. They belong not to individuals but to the
structure of the organization's processes.


"John Gunkler" <>

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