This paper offers a framework based on the key principles of the complexity paradigm proposed by Edgar Morin to review what can be considered the dominant approach towards knowledge management, i.e. the intellectual capital construct. The purpose of this paper is to identify epistemological weaknesses to offer insights for the improvement of the theory and practice on knowledge management.
Based on the complexity paradigm and its dialogic and recursive principles, a framework to understand knowledge is offered comprising three interrelated requirements, each of which is based on a pair of opposites, arguably critical for the conceptualisation of a complex knowledge: order and disorder, whole and parts, and non‐logical and logical modes of thinking. This tool is applied to reviewing the epistemological assumptions under the intellectual capital approach, in order to find insights for further research on knowledge management. The task has an interpretative character and is carried out highlighting central aspects of the intellectual capital construct.
As a result it is possible to point out that the intellectual capital approach does not fulfill the complexity requirements, since it only recognises at the level of human beings their objective and functional aspects of knowledge, given by qualifications and other features that can be measured on the one hand, and driven a priori by a functional strategy, on the other. It ignores, in consequence, the more unstructured and disordered aspect of knowledge which, from a complexity perspective, is constitutive for the creation of innovative ideas.
The study is fully centered on intellectual capital literature. A complementary review of other less used expressions of knowledge management such as the construct of “communities of practice”, applying the same diagnostic tool, could enrich the conclusions and theoretical proposals.
A framework for the detection of epistemological biases is offered and used in this paper to study the intellectual capital construct, which could be also applied for other knowledge‐based settings. For business managers and consultants dealing with knowledge management, this paper can also give some insights for the improvement of their organisational interventions.
A novel approach, the complexity paradigm, is proposed as the epistemological standpoint to improve theory and practice on knowledge management.
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