Power, rules of the game and the limits to knowledge management: Lessons from Japan and Anglo-Saxon alarms

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Journal Article
Prometheus (United Kingdom), 2003, 21 (1), pp. 23 - 40
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Much of the Knowledge Management (KM) literature assumes that all relevant knowledge can be represented as information and 'managed'. But the meaning of information is always context-specific and open to subsequent reinterpretation. Moving over time or between contexts affords scope for new meanings to emerge. Making sense of information signals (speech, body language, tone-of-voice or whatever)-and the absence of such signals-involves dimensions of individual and collective tacit knowledge that are frequently misrepresented or ignored in mainstream KM. By relating power and knowledge to 'rules of the game', it is possible to consider how the contexts in which information is rendered meaningful are bounded, as well as crucially related in the stretch between macro-level processes and micro-level practices. In the knowledge debate, Japan stands as a counterfactual to Anglo-Saxon expectations about formal rules, liberal individualism and market-rational entrepreneurship. While seminal accounts of knowledge creation in Japanese companies impelled the West towards KM, there has been no corresponding KM-boom in Japan. Our interpretation of the processes by which Japanese and Anglo-Saxon practices are situated suggests that KM is limited by the separation of knowledge from power and information from meaning.
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