Understanding the Knowledgeable Organisation: Nurturing Knowledge Competence

Roger Collins (Department of Management, Australian Graduate School of Management)

The Learning Organization

ISSN: 0969-6474

Article publication date: 1 August 2004



Collins, R. (2004), "Understanding the Knowledgeable Organisation: Nurturing Knowledge Competence", The Learning Organization, Vol. 11 No. 4/5, pp. 402-403. https://doi.org/10.1108/09696470410538297



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

For the authors of this book, the term knowledge management means “… using the ideas and experience of employees, customers and suppliers to improve the organisation's performance.” (p. 5), a definition adopted from Shapinker (2002). This book is directed at practitioners and post‐graduate business students. Its purpose is to enable managers to speed up the transformation of value creation from material tangible things to less tangible and potentially more profitable knowledge. Jane McKenzie and Christine van Winkelen acknowledge that this shift is the outcome of balancing and resolving the tensions between creating value from maintaining stability, and mining the future value that derives from driving change. In some respects, it is the age‐old challenge for managers of walking and chewing gum at the same time. It is the complex task of balancing countervailing forces.

The authors have identified six areas of organisational competence that enable managers to operate effectively within an economy increasingly driven by knowledge creation, transfer and application. In an effort to address the complexities of knowledge management, they draw attention to several organisational tensions that can block successful implementation of their ideas and recommendations. The book is structured in terms of analyses of each of the six organisational competencies and an integrative chapter that seeks to recognise the systemic nature of managing knowledge. The first three competences are essentially internal; the last three relate to knowledge flows between the organisation and its environment.

The first area of knowledge management competence addressed by the authors is competing through knowledge as a source of both high performance and competitive advantage. The development of this competence requires that we manage the tension between paying attention to exploiting existing knowledge, and creating new knowledge.

The authors contend that the second organisational competence necessary for effective knowledge management is deciding. In turn this requires that we locate and consider appropriate knowledge; identifying what knowledge is required and how it can be brought to bear to make better decisions? Yet, in many organisations decision‐making is increasingly distributed to the point of need and the sources of knowledge; so how can these decisions be aligned to organisational goals and strategy? The authors argue that there is a significant tension between paying attention to accessing and integrating diverse knowledge and the alignment of decisions to create congruence and consistency.

The third competence is individual and collective learning. The authors highlight two important pre‐requisites for effective learning: the development a common language and shared meaning, and the creation of trust – often between people who rarely meet face to face. In these endeavours there is often a tension between the needs of and priorities for individual and collective learning.

To validate and renew internal knowledge, organisations need a fourth competence: the ability to connect to customers, supplier competitors and other sources of knowledge. A resultant tension can emerge from trying to balance the “outside‐in” and “inside‐out” knowledge flows.

The fifth knowledge management competence is relating: the need to build both close ties to elicit tacit knowledge, and loose associations that access diverse sources of knowledge with adequate flexibility. This competence is not predicated on either close ties or loose associations, but rather on developing both to detect significant shifts in the organisation's environment. The sixth competence requires that the organisation can monitor the effectiveness and return to improve its ability to manage knowledge. Implicit in the development of this competence is the ability to extract value from stability and current knowledge while evolving new knowledge that ensures the adoption and continued relevance of the organisation.

A distinguishing feature of this book is its strategic perspective. The authors have moved beyond the description and analysis of knowledge management to a serious attempt to integrate this aspect of organisational functioning into the structure and life of the organisation. Many authors have approached knowledge management as an “add on” or new ingredient that can be considered in relative isolation from other aspects of organisational activity. In contrast, McKenzie and van Winkelen have sought to present the development of the knowledgeable organisation within a holistic framework that recognises that the competencies that they describe are intrinsic to the life of the organisation. Two features make the book particularly useful. First, the authors have provided navigational features and cross references that strengthen the integration of their material. Second, they present tools and ideas that enable the reader to identify how they can translate the conceptual framework into practice. This idea‐application approach is illustrated with the introduction of numerous illustrations and examples.

This book has at least three merits. First, the authors recognise and deal with the tendency to idealise and over‐conceptualise knowledge management. They avoid oversimplification of the implementation of knowledge management processes and systems by recognising the reality of organisational politics and the tendency to hold on to old sources of value creation. Second, the book is well structured; the authors unfold their ideas and arguments in a logical and lucid manner. Effective use is made of cross‐referencing of ideas. Finally, McKenzie and van Winkelen make extensive use of examples to bridge ideas and their application.

The book is adequately referenced. If there is a criticism it is that the authors do not reveal the origins of their framework. Intuitively, their framework appears to have face validity; but empirical support will ultimately make their case more compelling.


Shapinker, M. (2002), The Change Agenda, CIPD, London.

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