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The Knowledge Centered Organization

The Way of Systems

The Knowledge Centered Organization

A Dream Quest

Organizations have but a few basic difficulties. These difficulties just happen to masquerade behind a plethora of facades which ensures that most perceive their number to be legion. The apparent legion of difficulties can be distilled down to just four areas:

  • Objectives: well defined, communicated, understood, and committed to
  • Demand: commensurate with the level of capacity of the organization
  • Capacity: adequate to meet the current and projected demands
  • Effectiveness: extent to which the organization promotes demand, and manages capacity to respond to the demand on its journey toward its objectives.

This list may strike you as a bit short, so if you can think of an organizational difficulty that doesn't fit in one of these categories please let me know and we'll see if it really should be an addition.

The four areas above map just happen to map quite nicely to Mike Davidson's[1] for areas of organizational concern:

  • Mission: What are we trying to accomplish?
  • Competition: How do we gain a competitive edge?
  • Performance: How do we deliver the results?
  • Change: How do we cope with change?

Now if the puzzle is definable in such straight forward and apparently simple terms, why is it that organizations have such ongoing difficulties attempting to put the pieces together? The difficulty stems from a single foundation, or lack thereof, knowledge. The problems people experience within organizations stem from two knowledge dimensions:

  • What they don't know they don't know, and
  • What they think they know that just happens to be wrong.

As for what they know, and what they know they don't know, the former is the basis for appropriate action, and the latter can be accommodated through learning. As for the two dimensions listed above the first doesn't create nearly as many problems as the latter because the latter forms the basis for inappropriate action. Inappropriate action which simply leads to more difficulties for the organization to deal with.

Over the years a whole host of approaches, more methodologies if you prefer wordiness, have been developed to assist organizations through their difficulties. The diagram below is my attempt at providing a humorous perspective regarding these approaches.

Microsoft asks, "Where do you want to go today?"

Asking how you're going to get there is also a good question!

That these approaches have helped many organizations sort of goes without saying, otherwise they never would have become fads now would they. Yet, many other organizations just couldn't figure out how to get the mileage out of an approach so they blamed the failure on the approach and moved on to the next one. Do you get the impression there is something a bit warped in this picture?

We seems to have this passion for formulas, and when an individual, group, or organization experiences extraordinary success there is often an attempt to explain how that success was achieved. Of course, if we did it once then we should be able to do it again, right? All we need to know is the formula. Here's a paradigm for failure if I've ever seen one, but it sells well, as Tony Robbins, Steven Covey, Phil Crosby, Tom Peters, Michael Hammer, Peter Senge, and a host of others can attest to.

This is not to imply that the formulas don't have dimensions of merit. They all do. It's just that none of them are complete. And all of them taken together does not represent completeness either. There are just too many variables to be reduced to some simple n-step formula. And if this is the case, then how is it that success is achieved?

Success happens when a group of capable individuals pursue a well defined objective, continually reassessing things along the way, sometimes even questioning the continued sensibility of the objective, making adjustments based on the feedback, and pressing on. And here's where knowledge, and knowledge management[2] becomes such a valuable component of success.

When we deal with a situation we do so based on all that we bring with us. All the experience real or imagined that makes us what we are. And the extent to which the pattern of the situation connects governs our actions and the timing of those actions. Eric Jantsch[4] used the following diagram with regard to communication and I think it also quite relevant regarding how we deal with situations.

The idea being that situations we experience represent something on the scale from 100% Confirmation to 100% Novelty and it is the situations we deal with between these two extremes from which we learn. Those situations which represent 100% Confirmation provide nothing new and are just dealt with. Those situations which represent 100% Novelty we are completely unable to deal with because we are unable to make any connection.


  • [1] Davidson, Mike. The Transformation of Management. Butterworth-Heinman. 1996
  • [2] Bellinger, Gene. Knowledge Management. 1997
  • [3] Bellinger, Gene. The Effective Organization. 1997
  • [4] Jantsch, Eric. The Self-Organizing Universe: Scientific and Human Implications. Pergamon Press. 1980

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