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Learning Companies and Knowledge Management

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Essay title: Learning Companies and Knowledge Management

During the last century we have moved from the Industrial Age through the Information Age to the Knowledge Age. The ability to obtain, assimilate and apply the right knowledge effectively will become a key skill in the next century. Our ability will no longer be judged solely by qualifications gained in the past, but will also be assessed by our capacity to learn and adapt in the future.

In our business world, all organisations are facing new challenges every working day. Acquiring new customers, selecting new suppliers, purchasing new technology, introducing new products or targeting new markets are just a few examples of change in the workplace. While every change brings a different set of issues to deal with, the only constant is the fact that workforces who are quick to learn will be the most likely to handle change successfully (Peter F. Drucker, 1998).

Obviously, pre-request knowledge is necessary to be effective in a company, just because companies can not afford to teach everything to an employee or a manager. P. Senge (1991) argues that in this unpredictable world, it is no longer possible for anyone to figure "figure it all out at the top." The old model, "the top thinks and the local acts," must now give way to integrating thinking and acting at all levels. Interestingly, the key to organizational longevity appears to be the ability to run "experiments in the margin," to continually explore new business and organizational opportunities that create potential new sources of growth.

Indeed, experts agree that the success of companies comes from their abilities to adapt themselves to the changing business world. And to stay on top in front of competitors sharing your market, it is of primary importance to learn. Learn from errors done in the past or even better, learn by sharing knowledge and prevent possible mistake. According to Calhoun Wick (1996), author of ‘The Learning Edge’, one of the tenets in the corporate learning organization is that the best training is experience, and the reason why experience provides so much positive aspects is that it lets time to learn by sharing knowledge. "Classrooms may be good settings for building basic skills and laying foundations," observes C. Wick (1996), "but experience is where know-how is acquired." The most profound and useful learning comes from sharing knowledge, not just information.

Moreover, shared knowledge can be easily integrated with work. When people work together, sit close to each other, and interact with each other on a daily basis, they often naturally share ideas and insights without thinking of it as separate in any way from their normal work. Even somewhat limited interaction can lead to natural communities of practice. Xerox repair people formed a strong community of practice, although they only saw each other at morning check-ins. When sharing knowledge is seamlessly integrated into work, it is painlessly unobtrusive.

Knowledge management and learning go hand in hand. Learning processes define the quality of knowledge distributed across the organisation, as well as the effectiveness with which knowledge is put to use. To truly leverage knowledge, it is necessary to work with the subjective nature of learning and the idiosyncrasies of all those people who work within an organisation, a task which requires greater attention to individual and social processes of learning in organisational settings (Lopez et al, 2004).

That leads us to talk about learning organizations; and here are three experts’ definitions of learning organizations (Skyrme.com, 2003):

• Learning organizations are organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together (P. Senge, 1990).

• The Learning Company is a vision of what might be possible. It is not brought about simply by training individuals; it can only happen as a result of learning at the whole organization level. A learning company is an organization that facilitates the learning of all its members and continuously transforms itself (Pedler et. al. 1991)

• Learning organizations are characterized by total employee involvement in a process of collaboratively conducted, collectively accountable change directed towards shared values or principles (Watkins and Marsick, 1992).

Actually, the benefits that lead to success of companies that are sharing knowledge can be detailed in the following chart (D. Skyrme, 2002).

Knowledge benefits are those

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