Dennis Kennedy has written an entry on Courage as a Cultural Trait of Successful Firms?
What does it mean for a firm to have courage? How do you create a firm that has courage as a key cultural trait? Would you want to work at a firm that values courage? Or, perhaps a better question, why wouldn’t you always want to work at a firm that values courage? Then, what are the implications of working at a firm that either has courage or does not have courage? Is courage part of innovation?
Dennis based this piece on materials from LexThink. It might be a fun exercise to answer Dennis' questions, but I am mostly interested in the aspects of culture, particularly coming off teaching a course in knowledge management in the Learning and Organizational Change program at Northwestern. Culture is almost too obvious an influence on everything about the firm. This particular academic program places a strong emphasis on understanding culture and getting at core motivations, which are critical components of any change efforts. Goldratt even talks about becoming an amateur psychologist in understanding motivations in order to create change in organizations.
For the last class of the quarter, I had the class read "Diagnosing cultural barriers to knowledge management" (De Long & Fahey, The Academy of Management Executive, Nov 2000, pg 113ff, not available online). The core of this article is four views on how culture impacts knowledge sharing and some questions to ask to diagnose whether an organization is exhibiting the behaviors in question. It also has a number of interesting discussions and sidebars about knowledge and culture and innovation. For example, the authors split knowledge into structural, human and social, which is familiar from intellectual capital discussions. Their definition of social knowledge struck a chord with me around Denham Grey's ideas about knowledge appearing in social interactions. I wonder if firms that are described as "courageous" have removed some of these knowledge sharing barriers?
Here are the four ways in which culture influences knowledge, from the perspective of this article
- Culture influences the definition of knowledge and what is worth saving.
I particularly like this idea. Each company, or sub-unit have their view of the world and internal values that influence how they treat knowledge and what they believe is important.
- Culture mediates the relationships between organizational and individual knowledge.
This looks at how trust and status affect the flow of knowledge between individuals and within the organization as a whole.
- Culture creates the context for interaction around knowledge.
Can people share ideas horizontally and vertically within the organization? How does information about mistakes get spread (does it)?
- Culture impacts process by which new knowledge is created, validated and incorporated into the organization.
Once again, culture plays a role in how firms innovate and internalize new knowledge. There have been many books on the topic, and there will likely be many more.
For what it's worth, there are a number of articles available online which are closely related to the De Long and Fahey article:
- "Diagnosing Cultural Barriers to KM" in Spanish at Revista de Empresa.
- Antonina Holowetzki, "The relationship between knowledge management and organizational culture (pdf): An examination of cultural factors that support the flow and management of knowledge within an organization," capstone report, U of Oregon, Applied Information Management, Dec 2002.
- Guido Friebel and Michael Raith, "Abuse of Authority and Hierarchical Communication (pdf)," Aug 2001.
- Gokce Dervisoglu and Aykut Berber, "Knowledge Flow During the Product Development Process and Role of the Mediator (pdf): A Model Presentation," presentation at OKLC 2004.
- Angel Cabrera and Elizabeth F. Cabrera, "Knowledge-sharing dilemmas," Organization Studies, Sept-Oct 2002.
- Nicolai Foss, Kenneth Husted, Snejina Michailova, and Torben Pedersen, "Governing Knowledge Processes (pdf): Theoretical Foundations and Research Opportunities," Center for Knowledge Governance, Copenhagen Business School, Sept 2003.