Impact of uncertainty and ambiguity on your strategy

I came across Managing Dispersed Knowledge: Organizational Problems, Managerial Strategies, and Their Effectiveness by Markus C. Becker in Journal of Management Studies (vol 38, no 7, p 1037ff, 2001).  Becker has looked at the KM and related literature through the 1990's and described the impact of dispersed knowledge on the organization. 

Becker specifically highlights two kinds of unknowns in his discussion of uncertainty.  One is the common "I don't know enough" uncertainty that can be corrected with more information or more study.  The other is "I don't know about" variety - ambiguity.  With ambiguity, throwing more information at the problem does not help and frequently creates even more ambiguity. 

With respect to knowledge management, suggesting that the new intranet portal is going to solve the ambiguity problem is just wrong.  Not only do I not know what I need to know, but the mass of information available creates more ambiguity and mental gridlock.

Dispersed knowledge is simply the fact of organizations: no one person can know everything there is to know about the organization and its strategy.  He breaks the impact down into three pieces:

  1. large numbers: There is just too much out there.  As a result, the organization becomes opaque.  In addition, the fact of the quantity of people, divisions, pieces and parts creates higher resource requirements.
  2. asymmetries: the knowledge is dispersed through the organization - people don't all see the same information, and they react to what they see differently.  They bring different past experience, and that informs how they react in the current situation.  The knowledge, learning, skills, capacities, are sure to vary and increase assymetries across the organization.
  3. uncertainty: with all of this, there is uncertainty in decision making. 

There are a number of KM solutions described, but the key at the end of the paper is that no single solution will solve the problem of dispersed knowledge.  A blended approach is required that provides knowledge, lets people assimilate and create knowledge, build networks, decomposition, etc.

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