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The Efficacy of Institutional Knowledge Published: Sunday, March 25, 2001 By: Dr. Manuel Angel Morales

I want to share with the reader an interesting technical proposition: The ability to comprehend and change the basic assumptions that drive behavior in organizations is the essence of organizational learning. It is well established that learning and creativity are largely the result of collective undertakings. Teams, then, provide the framework and the setting to alter basic assumptions to enhance the capacity of institutional knowledge to produce desired results. While individuals must be prepared and able to participate in effective team action, and leaders must provide the context for such action, teams represent the stage upon which learning behavior plays out and the scene within which learning actually occurs.

The great Argentine poet Jorge Luis Borges reflects at the beginning of one of his stories on an ancestor of his that: “For him, as for all human beings, the times were bad to live in. Nobody has ever lived in utterly peaceful times, when being alive and having a good life were easy. There have always been violence, cowardice and imbecility. A good life does not come as a gift and nobody get what suits him or her without the nerve and energy to learn profound things.”

The world, neither institutions, have never been an utopia, but each one of us, working through teams, collectivities or communities, must make decisions to live a good life, without waiting for more favorable conditions.

Thus, within institutional settings it is fundamental to address the challenges of understanding and mitigating the subjective barriers to learning. This is an imperative for the motivation of people and teams to learn. The focus has to be on the processes that couple cognition, emotions and social settings, with the ways in which taken for granted and crystallized assumptions influence the imagination, creativity and ways of thinking of individuals.

Culture change is the most significant and far reaching application of organizational learning in organizations. While managing complex organizations, then, there is no other alternative but to shift to the role of teams in work culture change. Learning is required to change culture and a learning oriented culture is the highest aim in any institutional change venture. The quest is for facilitating and sustaining the achievement of the institutional potential.

Culture exists in two dimensions: behavior and the knowledge that sets behavior in motion. Behavior is the aspect of culture that we see. Behavior is what people do and it is represented in the manifestation of deeply held assumptions. Institutional knowledge refers to these assumptions which tend to be highly resistive to change and usually unconscious. The components of institutional knowledge represent the building blocks of culture. Culture change refers to changing a few or many constituents of institutional knowledge. Any organization will hold certain assumptions that produce useful effects, while other assumptions will be incongruent with reality and will produce harmful consequences.

The task is to change organizational culture for bringing about more desirable and beneficial effects, and not that of throwing out an existing culture in favor of a new one. Institutions have to work, both on changing and preserving things.

Nevertheless, whatever is done within any institutional setting, it is essential to treat people as people, and being well disposed toward them. There are two fundamental principles of ethics: (1) Do not do to others what you would not have them do to you. (2) Whatever you do to others, you also do to yourself.

 


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