Toward the end of the 20th Century it was observed by many commentators and researchers that the world was moving toward an information rich or knowledge-based society (Baeyer, 2003) and that organisations that “identify, value, create and evolve their knowledge assets” (Rowley, 1999) could be successful and competitive. Drucker (1993) and others argued that knowledge would become the main competitive tool in many businesses.
Drucker (1993) described knowledge, rather than capital or labour as the only meaningful economic resource in this knowledge society, and Senge (1990) warned that many organisations were unable to function effectively as knowledge based organisations, because they suffered from learning disabilities. An organisation’s ability to know as well as learn, adapt and change has been identified as a core competency for survival (Hussain, Lucas and Asif, 2004). There appeared and remains a pervading mantra that companies must innovate and even reinvent themselves or they will cease growing or wither away. (Nunes & Breen, 2013).
Organisations are repositories of knowledge resources and many are, experiencing demands for innovation, being exposed to disruptive forces and often working internally toward reinvention (Nunes & Breen, 2013). The outcome of these disruptive forces are influenced heavily by an organization’s ability to understand, maintain, seek out and add to their knowledge resources.
The stresses and pressures unleashed by emerging technologies, globalisation, and a rapidly growing knowledge economy, explored in more detail later, are impacting and forcing individuals and organisations to seek new ways to reinvent themselves not once but continually.
These observations appeared to harmonise with comments made by Standards Australia about the pressures and impacts in the knowledge process within Australia at the start of the 21st Century.
“Knowledge creation, transmission and use remain unstructured (and hence, informal and often unconscious processes). Decisions are often made without the benefit of the best knowledge available to an organisation. Knowledge is not reused or shared, meaning staff either continually reinvent the wheel or duplicate the efforts of others elsewhere in the organisation. People are overwhelmed with information that detracts from rather that adds to their ability to do their job (paradoxically, creating a situation where staff experience a simultaneous flood and drought of information). Knowledge hoarding by staff is common, and there is little organisational interest in the value of developing knowledge capacity among staff.”
(Standards Australia report International Best Practice:
Case Studies in Knowledge Management, 2001)
Like all evolutionary processes survival and adaptation are key. Evolving organisations need to be agile and work to ensure effective information and knowledge management systems are in place. “Agility will be a top challenge this year for all organizations,” stated Dr. James Canton (2013) of the Institute for Global Futures. “We are predicting that fast and disruptive changes will be both an opportunity for growth and competitive advantage as well as a great risk. Fast change, hyper-competition and explosive innovations may catch organizations unprepared,” Companies and jurisdictions will need to adapt, learn and navigate the social, economic and technological changes that are coming. Dr. Canton’s research indicates that: “Radical innovations will lead the key disruptions business will face this year. Many companies are not future-ready to meet the global challenges that will emerge.” (Canton 2013)
Human society, and possibly humanity itself, depends on its ability to think quickly, wisely, derive valuable thoughts, manage disruption and follow through on innovative insights consequent to creating and using knowledge, both individually and organisationally. It will be in our best interests to try and understand the impacts of the cultural and societal changes being felt in both the advanced nations and the emerging industrial societies on the knowledge acquisition process.
It is hard to ignore the specific role of the internet and changes in information technology caught up in this disruption and this thesis will examine these aspects and their effect on knowledge management but there are also many larger cultural changes that are impacting and should also be considered. Looking at any one focal or global change in isolation may miss synergistic opportunities in the search for solutions.
I hope to write more about knowledge over time, examining our past and current understanding of the nature of knowledge, its precursors in data and information and its impact in the formation of modern individual and organisational wisdom, the impact of the changes referred to above and, the consequential risks of information loss and degradation of information quality. I will explore the prospects of ultimately improving our knowledge and information management systems in this changing environment and make recommendations and suggest possible solutions to try and alleviate these growing risks.
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