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Working Knowledge: How Organizations Manage What They Know

Working Knowledge: How Organizations Manage What They Know

by Thomas H. Davenport, Laurence Prusak

The definitive primer on knowledge management, this book will establish the enduring vocabulary and concepts and serve as the hands-on resource of choice for fast companies that recognize knowledge as the only sustainable source of competitive advantage. Drawing on their work with more than 30 knowledge-rich firms, the authors - experienced consultants with a track


The definitive primer on knowledge management, this book will establish the enduring vocabulary and concepts and serve as the hands-on resource of choice for fast companies that recognize knowledge as the only sustainable source of competitive advantage. Drawing on their work with more than 30 knowledge-rich firms, the authors - experienced consultants with a track record of success-examine how all types of companies can effectively understand, analyze, measure, and manage their intellectual assets, turning corporate knowledge into market value. They consider such questions as: What key cultural and behavioral issues must managers address to use knowledge effectively? What are the best ways to incorporate technology into knowledge work? What does a successful knowledge project look like - and how do you know when it has succeeded? In the end, say the authors, the human qualities of knowledge - experience, intuition, and beliefs - are the most valuable and the most difficult to manage. Applying the insights of "Working Knowledge" is every manager's first step on that rewarding road to long-term success.

Editorial Reviews

Upside Magazine
A solid dose of common sense for any company looking to acquire — or maintain — a competitive edge.
Library Journal
Having consulted more than 30 companies involved in KM initiatives, the authors pack their book with information on successful projects and cover issues ranging from corporate culture and employee behavior, to the role of information technology in KM and how to measure a project's success. A practical and thorough approach makes this one of the best books for readers new to the topic. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Describes the basics of the current knowledge movement in the organizational world. Drawing on the examples of over thirty firms, the authors explain what knowledge in an organization is, how managers can analyze and measure it, and what is the proper way to utilize it for greater efficiency. They categorize knowledge work into the four categories of accessing, generating, embedding, and transferring, and then discuss the skills and processes needed for successful organizational implementation. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.

Product Details

Harvard Business Review Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.50(w) x 9.50(h) x (d)

Read an Excerpt

"Rapidly or slowly, usefully or unproductively, knowledge moves through organizations. It is exchanged, bought, bartered, found, generated, and applied to work. In contrast to individual knowledge, organizational knowledge is highly dynamic: it is moved by a variety of forces. If we want knowledge to move and be utilized more effectively, we need to better understand the forces that drive it.

"We believe market forces power its movement, working similarly to markets for more tangible goods. There is a genuine market for knowledge in organizations. Like markets for goods and services, the knowledge market has buyers and sellers who negotiate to reach a mutually satisfactory price for the goods exchanged. It has brokers who bring buyers and sellers together and even entrepreneurs who use their market knowledge to create internal power bases.

". . . . Understanding that there are knowledge markets and that they operate similarly to other markets is essential to managing knowledge successfully in organizations. Many knowledge initiatives have been based on the utopian assumption that knowledge moves without friction or motivating force, that people will share knowledge with no concern for what they may gain or lose by doing so. . . . People rarely give away valuable possessions (including knowledge) without expecting something in return.

". . . . If the political reality of an organization is such that calculating and secretive hoarders of knowledge thrive, then potential knowledge buyers will have no currency valuable enough to tempt them to share their expertise. . . . If it is considered a sign of weakness or incompetence within the culture. . . to admit to a problem youcan't solve on your own, then the social cost of 'buying' knowledge will be too high. . . . At Mobil Oil, where disapproval of 'bragging' is embedded in the culture, the efficiency of the knowledge market was reduced because knowledge owners are reluctant to 'advertise' their knowledge and were distrusted by their colleagues if they did." (pp. 25-27)

When Knowledge is a Dirty Word

"As most of us learn quickly enough in grade school, we live in an anti-intellectual society. In companies where a few lonely individuals are pursuing knowledge management, the concession to know-nothingism often sounds something like this: 'We're afraid to use the term "knowledge" because everyone in the company is so pragmatic. So we call it "best practices."' There is a certain logic in trying to adapt to the dominant culture, but we think it's self-defeating to try to conceal what you're doing by calling it something else. If the word 'knowledge' is suspect in your organization, your knowledge management program probably won't succeed anyway.

"Here's why it's a bad idea to refer to knowledge as 'best practices,' 'benchmarks,' 'information resources,' or whatever pragmatic euphemism your boss happens to prefer. First of all, none of these terms do justice to the entire domain of knowledge. If you call it 'best practices,' for example, how about the knowledge of a customer's business situation and needs that involves no 'practice' at all? If you call it something related to information, you'll be dragged back into the corporate information systems morass that really involves data.

"More importantly, the inability to use the word 'knowledge' suggests that the senior management of your firm doesn't buy into the big idea behind knowledge management-that what people know and can learn are more valuable than any other business resource. Eventually these philistines will cut back the funding for your Information Resource Center or your Best Practices Database when they find out what you're really up to.

"So we say call it what it is, and false down-to-earth American pragmatism be damned. Spend your time arguing about the worth of knowledge up front, rather than fighting rearguard skirmishes later. And if your company doesn't like the word 'knowledge,' put 'knowledge manager' proudly on your resumé and look for one that does." (pp. 174-175)

Meet the Author

Thomas H. Davenport is the President’s Distinguished Chair at Babson College and a research fellow at the MIT Center for Digital Business. He is the author of the worldwide bestseller, Process Innovation (HBS Press, 1993) and Mission Critical (HBS Press, 2000). Laurence Prusak is a managing principal of the IBM Consulting Group in Boston and the worldwide competency leader in knowledge management for IBM. He formerly was a researcher/consultant at Ernst & Young and Mercer Management Consulting.

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