Business Book Review

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Building A Knowledge-Driven Organization - by Robert H. Buckman - Remarks

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Today’s marketplace is no longer product-driven, nor is it market-driven; it is knowledge-driven. Companies have to look, as the author points out, for more opportunities with a smaller number of customers. It is important to look for niche markets in which a company can get more value added. It follows, then, that moving toward more complex customer interactions will require mobilization of an organization’s knowledge base, particularly its tacit knowledge (what Buckman describes as “what people hold between their ears and behind their eyeballs”).

The central issue that the author reiterates a number of times (and with good reason) is that building a knowledge-driven organization is not a project. Rather, it is “a complete and open-ended transformation of the organizational model.” It requires an investment, and not simply an investment of money. It has to have support from the top of the organization. “The people in charge have to settle down and live the change, not just provide the resources and recommend it to others.”

Building a knowledge-driven, or knowledge-based organization, is, as the author discusses throughout the book, about redefining the time of equation of work, it is about redefining how work is done. The focus is therefore put on the organization’s needs, and how to meet those needs as rapidly and as efficiently as possible. Buckman does not see a trade-off between speed and quality, saying rather, that it is often “a perception thing.” He believes that “when you build the capacity to move faster and faster as an organization, the quality will rise along with the speed.”

In Buckman’s philosophy, the Community of One concept described earlier becomes the new organizational model for business. Businesses become organized around “issue-driven” communities, i.e., groups that are designed to take action on a particular, pressing issue, a problem that needs immediate attention, or an opportunity that will disappear if it is not seized upon. This process inevitably redefines the organization’s structure as a network rather than the traditional hierarchy. He makes the point that issue-driven communities are not the same as what are often called “communities of practice,” a term introduced in the early 1990s by Etienne Wenger and Jean Lave. “I prefer to differentiate between the two, however, because of the significant difference in the sense of urgency and the diverse population required to create the dynamic character I regard as the essential feature of an Issue-Driven Community.” Communities of Practice, at least in Buckman’s view, function more as groups with similar interests (for example, the researchers in a company, the marketing staff, the R&D staff) who take longer, slower looks at developments in their field.

Following Buckman’s model for a knowledge-driven organization, command-and-control management is gone forever. Therefore, what the author recommends is really quite revolutionary, changing the traditional hierarchical, vertical, command-and-control management structure to a networked, horizontal structure, which he concedes, near the close of the book, is not necessarily an option for every organization.


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