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Coupling knowledge and action in the management context - What does it mean for business educators?

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In the last decade, scholarly interest has been mainly attracted on the nature of knowledge,mechanisms of knowledge production and the transformation of the institutions diffusingknowledge. Most of these studies share the underlying hypotheses that management knowledge"travels", as a package, from producers to passive receivers. A few exploratory attempts haveenvisioned an alternative perspective based on the idea of "knowledge consumption". Managers areactive receivers of institutionalized knowledge in the course of enacting their organizational roles.Building on this last perspective, first we try to outline the process of knowledge consumption. Wedescribe how sources of knowledge are selected, knowledge is acquired and consumed by assumingthat managers are active consumer of management knowledge. Then, we construct the processlinking the flows of management knowledge in organizations and the flows of action performed bymanagers. We sustain that knowledge has to be first dis-embed from the context and artifacts it is into be translated into a portable form—a standardized artifact, a logic of action, etc. Then, specificcourses of action are required to re-embed knowledge in new artifacts, practices or routines (e.g. abudgetary procedure, an organizational process, etc.). So, to re-embed knowledge in new contexts,managers have to mobilize resources and build consensus on the specific courses of action.By assuming this process, two consequences are derived: first, the dis-embedding/re-embeddingprocess is not the outcome of conscious planning; it goes back and forth, allows for controversial or"hypocritical" moves, at least in the short run. In any case, once management knowledge istranslated into logics of action, managers have to use their imaginative power to share these logicsto mobilize constituencies on priorities and undertake specific courses of actions This supports theidea that the managerial role is intrinsically political.Second, management education cannot simply deals with managerial recipes and rules of thumb. Itis increasingly asked for providing non-technical knowledge to help managers exert their politicalrole. To mobilize constituencies and create consensus on controversial decisions, technicalitiescould be less relevant than business-unrelated knowledge. We hold that has a relevant impact onboth the institutional settings and the content of management education.The paper is structured in three parts. First, a framework is proposed to describe managementknowledge consumption. Second, we outline the process linking consumed knowledge with actualmanagerial action. Third, the impact of this perspective on the structure of the institutions diffusingknowledge and on the idea of what is needed to make managerial decisions are explored.

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Carmelo Mazza, Jesper Strandgaard Pedersen, José Luis Alvarez

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