The Creation and Sharing of Knowledge

Max Boisot

Barcelona, Spain


In spite of its growing appeal to practitioners, knowledge management faces three unresolved problems. The first is epistemological in nature. What exactly is it that is being managed? The second problem concerns knowing as a social phenomenon. Is it, and can it ever be a social phenomenon? If organizations do turn out to have something approximating 'group minds' to direct their collective actions, then treating them as if they had individual personalities may end up being more than just a convenient legal fiction. Power raises a third problem. From a purely societal perspective, knowledge is at its most useful when it is leveraged and shared. But when the good that is for sale is itself an information good, how much information should be shared and how much should be retained? In other words, at what point is one beginning to give away what one is actually trying to sell?

Lack of space prevents us from dealing with these problems in any detail in this chapter. In what follows, however, we present a three-dimensional conceptual framework, the Information-Space, or I-Space, that helps to address them. We first briefly deal with the epistemological issues that confront knowledge management. We need to understand, for instance, what knowledge is and how it differs from data and information. Here we introduce the first two dimensions of the I-Space, those of codification and abstraction. Next we examine some of the characteristics of knowledge flows that distinguish them from flows of physical resources. Our focus will be on one of the issues that was being addressed at the very beginning of the scientific revolution, namely, on how new knowledge is generated. We then look at the issue of how such knowledge is shared, a second major concern of the period. In so doing, we shall introduce the third dimension of the I-Space. The questions raised by knowledge sharing are still with us today -- albeit that, with the emergence of the Internet, they have taken on a radically new form. Finally we assess the managerial implications of our analysis.

To appear in "Strategic Management of Intellectual Capital and Organizational Knowledge" edited by Nick Bontis & Chun Wei Choo (Oxford University Press).