New Zealand has an education and
training system available to enable every citizen to realise his or her full potential – if they care to take advantage of it. Many sectors of the economy are already turning out some of the best research achievements and quality production levels in the world specifically in plant and animal husbandry, food products, light engineering, electronics and other manufacturing industries, together with service industries such as medicine, tourism and sport. Knowledge of the highest order is clearly already in place and at work.
In New Zealand there will always be the question of degree and spread when it comes to knowledge and technology. The country’s population in general could be taken to better levels of education and skill, both for basic requirements and for continuing adaptation to global changes and opportunities. Having insufficient people with the requisite knowledge and skills from the national population inevitably leads to an influx of foreign nationals, either through immigration schemes or via educational opportunities.
We all possess vast amount of knowledge – of the generic kind, which pertains to life at large, and of the specific kind, which pertains to how we personally live and work. Together it adds up to stock of stored information about ourselves and our environment which makes survival and continual adaptation possible.
No-one ever knows enough. Constant learning is the law of life. In the 17th century Francis Bacon, founder of modern science, believed he knew all there was to know. How times have changed!
Knowledge is destined to be used. Its applicability is always changing, although there is the perennial argument that at least some knowledge is changeless in value, invariable and permanently applicable. And so it is with organisations. An organisation’s total stock of knowledge is its indispensable asset – including its rate of augmentation and renewal, and its location and accessibility. Knowledge is the very realm of management responsibility. It drives recruitment, training, retraining, firing and promotion and is the stuff of both competition and cooperation.
Knowledge is universe. There are many ways to classify it. The total knowledge at the disposal of an organisation could be classified, for example, as knowledge about clients or customers, handling and manufacturing materials, accounting and financial controls, plant/office layout, deployment of people, the business environment and market conditions.
When it comes to assessing knowledge it is worth bearing in mind four different types of knowledge for practical purposes.
Type 1: Inert Knowledge
This covers the knowledge we have that has no present applicability – such as the name of the capital city of France, the chemical formula for water or the notes of the musical scale of C. We may know these facts, but it is not imperative that we know them and carry them around with us all the time. Knowledge such as this can be stored in numerous ways and then accessed at will when needed. For example, you may know that they drive on the right hand side of the road in France. If you go to France to drive you activate this particular fact and use it. If you did not know beforehand, you look it up and then put your knowledge to good use.
Nowadays, there is less need than ever to carry around inert knowledge in the head, given such plethora of sources and means of accessing information of this kind. Schools no longer have to get children and young people to memorise Type 1 knowledge to the extent they once did. Highly selective relevance is in order, of course. Medical students, for example, still have to know the names of all the bones in the body as knowledge to put to continual use.
Type 2. Significant
This category is for items of knowledge which crop up or circulate unexpectedly, or are deliberately sought out by enquiry or research – “Have you heard?… Did you see?… What do you think of that? Significant knowledge may immediately be applied to serve one’s own or one’s organisation’s interests since it may have bearing on current or contemplated action. Otherwise it gets relegated to reserve as Type 1 knowledge, perhaps for future reference. Type 2 items have the power to reactivate Type 1 items and bring them into meaningful use. News that severe storm is on its way or news that competitor organisation has taken new initiative, for example, will evoke whole range of previous inert knowledge items that can be used constructively. People can be outstanding according to the way in which they handle items of significant knowledge. Some can see implications, usefulness and inventiveness, where others see nothing.
Type 3. Experiential
This category covers items of knowledge of subjective nature. What does it feel like to have serious illness or accident and to battle through to survive it? What does it feel like to have financial crisis as an organisation or to be made redundant and live to fight another day? You may know that Paris is the capital of France and you may hear about great job there which you decide to apply for, but what is it like to live and work in Paris?
Someone who has survived life-threatening illness, or has lived through organisational collapse or has actually lived and worked in Paris has stock of knowledge which may be distinguished from Types 1 and 2 knowledge items and can be of immense help and comfort to another person facing similar experience for the first time. The old hands have lived through it all. They know how to handle themselves. This type of knowledge involves emotional management to gain self-control and to make emotions work for constructive ends.
Type 4. Knowhow Knowledge
Items in this category are those that are manifested in specifc actions. This is the knowledge that enables one to make fine speech, use computer, climb mountain, drive car, or operate to transplant kidney.
Every individual can notch up score in each of the four types of knowledge but clearly the profile of knowledge thus generated is of variable use to an organisation according to its work and direction of development. Consideration of the asset value of knowledge in organisations has driven theory and practice for the past half century towards the ‘open organisation’, the ‘empowerment of employees’, and the growth of entrepreneurial contracting. The last of these is now of growing importance. Individuals are finding out how to sell their specialist knowledge to organisations as independent contractors or to bargain for their contracts as payroll employees on the basis of itemised knowledge credentials.
Behind these and other concepts lies the ever-present need to marshal and maximise the knowledge which can be available for the organisation’s disposal. Particular individuals in an organisation may resist the use of available knowledge for variety of reasons – some worthy, some unworthy.
The climate and structure of an organisation in the hands of skilled management needs to be such that everyone is willing and able to make available his or her knowledge in genuine participative enterprise to the benefit of the organisation.
The term ‘knowledge management’ has come into being. It signifies the need for complete overview of available knowledge to an enterprise. It also implies that knowledge which cannot be available, which cannot be accessed in usable form, and which cannot be procured on time is by definition valueless.
Alan Paisey, now retired and living in NZ was Head of Administrative Studies, Bulmershe College, University of Reading, England.