Our first contribution to the open period comes from Richard Lalleman who is sharing his dissertation proposal (which uses the Cynefin Framework) with us for comment.

Knowledge management and organisational learning each lack a theory of how cognition happens in human social systems. Complexity theory offers this missing piece and can make a huge contribution to both knowledge management and organisational learning. This dissertation proposal aims to explore and assess the utilisation of the Cynefin framework for leadership to enhance organisational learning processes in cross cultural business contexts.

After a study in the late 1910s, the geologist Alfred Wegener (1915) was convinced that the current configuration of the continents was once a supercontinent, known as Pangaea. He related his theory on the idea that the continents are drifting away from each other. While his theory met with scepticism at that time, developments in geology in the 1950s and 1960s agreed to his theory.

On the other hand, the economic evolution is showing a different movement. Where in geology continents are literally drifting from each other; within economics continents are figuratively drifting to each other. This is known as globalisation. Many researchers, columnists and other recognised professionals have already written much about the causes of globalisation for businesses, which vary from the rapid development of communication technologies to the fall of the Berlin Wall. One of the dominated effects of globalisation for businesses, on the other hand, is unanimous: an increase in competition.

In the pre-modern times of economy, economic activity consisted primarily of the exchange of tangible goods such as coal. The value of these tangible goods was determined by supply and demand, which is still the case. Where there is more competition, the supply of goods increases and the value decreases.

In the post-modern times of economy, the information society, the value of information is also decreasing. According to Murray and Sekella (2007) the supply of information has greatly expanded in virtually unlimited quantities. Where once traditional encyclopaedias were costly but excellent sources for a wide variety of information, Wikipedia can now be used without charge and is being updated instantly.

Consequently, to compete as a business in a rapidly changing environment and where information is available to everybody, businesses are increasingly concentrating on the management of knowledge. Knowledge, the output of the “raw materials of data and information as inputs, and through the application of innovative processes” (Murray and Sekella, 2007), helps people make better decisions and better decision-making helps businesses in changing and uncertain environments.

Under the guidance of Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995), knowledge was seen as something in the minds of people (i.e. tacit knowledge) and as something which is ‘open’ to people after it has been documented in some way (i.e. explicit knowledge). Anyhow, they concluded that at a certain point tacit knowledge should become explicit knowledge. With the rise of new and powerful information technologies in the mid nineties, businesses started to manage knowledge in databases. Unfortunately this approach did not last long and at the end of the 1990s knowledge management failed to show its value. Stacey (2001) argued that “knowledge is not a thing, or a system, but an ephemeral, active process of relating in which you cannot manage it”. This has lead to a new generation of knowledge management in which “we grow beyond managing knowledge as a thing to also managing knowledge as a flow” (Snowden, 2002).

Clearly, businesses should learn through innovative processes if they want to manage knowledge. According to Murray and Greenes (2006) the innovative processes within a learning organisation consist of three important knowledge management pillars: (1) leadership – how to encourage learning and sharing through business driven decisions or tools, (2) organisational designs – how to encourage learning and sharing through human resource management – and the (3) technology infrastructure. To put it briefly, businesses should encourage people to make better decisions in uncertain situations of which knowledge management is the discipline that fills the gap.

According to McElroy (2000), managing knowledge can be done through three communities: the (1) knowledge management community itself; (2) advocates of organisational learning; and (3) supporters of complexity theories. He strongly outlines that each of these three communities “has something that the other two desperately need”. Knowledge management and organisational learning each lack a theory of how cognition happens in human social systems. Complexity theory offers this missing piece and can make a huge contribution to both knowledge management and organisational learning.

Furthermore, over the past ten years a traditional approach to leadership changed to a new form based on complexity science. This resulted in the development of the Cynefin framework. According to Snowden and Boone (2007) the framework sorts decision making into “five contexts defined by the nature of the relationship between cause and effect”. Four of these – simple, complicated, complex, and chaotic – require leaders to diagnose situations and to perform in contextually appropriate ways.

The Cynefin framework for leadership also illustrates clearly the shift in thinking within knowledge management from strategies that urges dissemination and imitation to those that promote education and innovation. Knowledge management started with the intention to capture, codify and distribute organisational knowledge in computerised environments. However, at this moment, “the educate and innovative strategy grants a higher value to learning and knowledge creation” (McElroy, 2000).

Consequently, this research aims to explore and assess the utilisation of the Cynefin framework for leadership to enhance organisational learning processes in cross cultural business contexts by primarily exploring the details of the (1) decision making process and what the role of the leader is in this process. This exploration is linked to the four most important strategic contexts of the Cynefin framework for leadership in organisations. Secondly, if it is clear in which strategic context the decision making process is located, the research explores the (2) learning processes of the organisation and how these learning processes contribute to (3) innovation.

If you want to know more about the research dissertation, please contact Richard Lalleman

REFERENCES
McElroy, M.W. (2000) “Integrating complexity, knowledge management and organizational learning”, Journal of Knowledge Management, 4(3), 195-203

Murray, A.J. and Greenes, K.A. (2006) “In search of the enterprise of the future”, VINE: The Journal of Information and Knowledge Management Systems, 36(3), 231-237

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