Knowledge and Measure

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.

I am at the junction of management, technology & culture, to maximize knowledge work & make organizations more competitive. I'm passionate about knowledge management, communities of practice, enterprise social computing (aka enterprise 2.0) and corporate governance in a knowledge economy. I fancy designing collaboration and knowledge sharing related digital tools. I am currently the Director, Collaborative Development at the Ops Division of L'Oreal and based in Paris. I was previously in Singapore and Hyderabad as Director Asia at Revevol, an international cloud computing broker specialised in Google Enterprise products and related services, Associate Director of the Digital Division of the National Library Board of Singapore and before a consultant at Headshift, a social business design consultancy now part of the Dachis Group. I have been working on international network and community management, designing and implementing CRM, reporting and community tools. I have given some lectures around KM at EM Lyon, a European leading Management School, and talks at both KM Singapore and KM Asia. I participated in the we are smarter than me initiative as chapter moderator. I have been a member of the Executive Committee of the Information & Knowledge Management Society of Singapore (IKMS) for two years. I graduated a PhD in Management, while working in a full-time position and with the kind support of Claude Roche (France Telecom, previously at ENST), Jean-Claude Moisdon (CGS Mines) and Philippe Lorino (ESSEC). When not working, I can be found back-packing mostly in Latin America and Asia. The shift from muscle sweat to brain juice as the main factor of performance creates some fundamental changes in the way management is to be taught and practised. Topics like knowledge management (KM), communities of practice (CoP), enterprise social computing (Enterprise 2.0) are the ones that participate in crafting the new required management practices. But they only are one part of the solution. Topics like measurement and metrics, behaviours and authority, representation and organisation of the group also have to be questioned and rejuvenated. This blog is about all this and we can summarise this as 'managing in a knowledge economy'. It displays ideas of my own and not the ones of my employers, past and present.

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