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Organisations as epistemic cultures

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Management theory and practice nowadays accept that knowledge is an important resource for the success of an organisation. However, the author claims that we still know very little about the processes surrounding the creation of knowledge inside organisations, and what we know is normally a model-like description of a process that does not resemble the chaotic, ambiguous reality experienced by organisations. In an effort to fill this gap, the author conducted a year-long ethnography inside an incubator, concentrating on three companies. As a first description of his data, he conceptualises organisations as epistemic cultures, that is social systems in which knowledge is a primary output. This draws attention to three phenomena that run counter the established wisdom. First, organisational members are concerned with codifying know-how much more than know-what. Second, the social relationships inside management teams allow for very different dynamics, depending on the type of knowledge created. Third, companies devote a long time to the initial planning phase, suggesting that business plans may have a role even in high velocity, turbulent environments like the ones surrounding the net bubble. Tentative explanations are provided for the three phenomena, as well as implications and conclusions.

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