The evolution from a material economy toward a knowledge economy implies a shift in the balance between explicit and tacit elements of work. If we take arbitrarily the law of 80/20, it is possible to says that:
• In the early 20th century (Taylor), activity was made of 80% of explicit elements and 20% of tacit elements.
• In the early 21st century (us), activity was made of 20% of explicit elements and 80% of tacit elements.
The tacit nature of knowledge is problematic because it prevents measurement and consequently disqualifies the Taylorian method. This later becomes partial which explains the management blindness. In fact it challenges the whole intellectual system that made possible the economic development of Europe.
Let me explain this further.
Galileo Galilei initiates the evaluation of action by calculation (both technical and monetarian). The European vision of the world we live in is built on a single causality: matter. It is a philosophical representation of the world that is not based on empirical experimentations, but on affirmative reason. Mathematics objectivises the discourse because an experimental world that is subject to mathematisation positively responds to a settled mathematical order. By initiating so, Galileo Galilei creates the possibility to put an equal sign to any material element. From then on, the world appears to be a reality that is both inert (as material) and intelligible by Man (as mathematisable). Measure precedes Matter. In parallel, the centralisation of work by Luther – his salvation doctrine encompasses salvation economy – helps our ancestors consider the relation between work and matter. At this moment, an economical representation of work emerges which contributes to the abstraction of work: value measurement. Market becomes the standard representation of the place where products of work are exchanged. Currency allows the objective measure of plus value of the exchange of products of work (as it allows the standardisation of incomes). Work, matter and value unite together to form a measurable conception of work, which facilitates a more powerful development of human societies.
However, the immateriality (tacitness) of knowledge prevents measurement and thus invalidates the solution brought by Taylor. This one is partial a maxima. In fact we face the objection Aristotle raised against Plato’s project of mathematisation of Nature: the impossibility to measure quality. Measurement is the median between the physical reality and the economical one. Currency is the construct of capital institutionalisation (institution meaning certainty). The economic indicator still works fine with knowledge but it is not the case of the physical indicator. Financial mathematics is more and more distant from economic reality.
This is the starting point of two recurring controversies:
• Management reporting tools: management is blind because reporting tools implemented by finance departments are reductionistic.
• The capital construct: corporations are financially undervalued on a structural basis.
The rise of the knowledge economy is as such a double faceted issue. On one side the issue is economical (objective valuation), on the other it is political. The authority of Management obtains its legitimacy from measurement. Managers are here to monitor and coordinate employees to ensure the maximum organisational efficiency (profits).
The solution is therefore to materialise the immaterial, to explicit the tacit. That is exactly the project of knowledge management. This also is the massive trend in services with the apparition of large automated and specialised units, such as call centers, or intermediate objects, such as wireframes, mock-up, prototypes, beta-versions, personas. These examples are empirical evidences of the explicitation of tacit elements, of the rematerialisation of the economy. This rematerialisation is enforced by the contractual obligation to objectivise its activity: matter is and remains the counterpart to measure.
Enterprise social computing are tools that facilitate but also materialise social interactions and intellectual work. The formers are two essential elements of any productive activity as they contribute to making processes work. These tools also open new possibilities of monitoring and improving these previously tacit processes. Enterprise social computing is an essential bit of the rematerialisation of the economy. Correctly customised and equipped with relevant metrics they are a powerful source of productivity and profitability.