Organizational culture as a knowledge repository for increased innovative capacity

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Authors: M. Lemon, P.S. Sahota

Publication Year: 2004


Journal: Technovation

Volume: 24

Issue: 1

Categories: Innovation


Just as ‘innovate or die’ is one of the mantras of today’s economy, knowledge is increasingly recognized as the key underpinning resource. Effective innovation that improves the ability of an organization to remain competitive within an uncertain environment requires the creation, capture, harvest, sharing and application of knowledge and expertise. The ability of an organization to ‘learn’ means that knowledge must be utilized on problems and opportunities as they emerge and is generated through an ongoing evaluation of how those responses have impacted on the organization and its operating environment. Much has been written about the process of innovation from idea generation through downstreaming and operationalization to commercialization. Organizational culture has been recognized as a primary determinant within innovation and the need to better understand this relationship or process is a necessary prerequisite to nurturing it in a more structured and systematic manner. Innovation is holistic in nature and is inseparable from the culture that facilitates or constrains the ability to ‘add value’. This paper explores and presents organizational culture as a ‘bundle’ of knowledge repositories with storing and information processing capabilities. Drawing upon the knowledge management and innovation literature the location, attributes and characteristics of these repositories are provisionally identified and mapped. Primary data drawn from an R&D environment within telecommunications is then used to develop a tool for auditing, intervening, changing and maintaining knowledge repositories. This is a three-stage process comprising an audit tool that identifies various cultural archetypes and their respective audited knowledge layers; an intervention tool that suggests various interventions and strategies for targeted change to the audited knowledge layers and an innovation maintenance tool that proposes strategies for ‘maintenance’ of the desired organizational culture archetype. It will be argued that organizational learning plays an important part in ensuring that knowledge repositories are continually replenished and updated to enable efficient responses to changes in its competitive environment.

Critical Reflection

This paper considers knowledge as an important factor for innovation processes. Companies have to make the most out of explicit and tacit knowledge within the organization in order to cope with the ever changing external environment. The authors identify different knowledge repositories within organizations that collectively form a conceptual model of organizational culture; the environment, missions, vision and values, technology, knowledge structures, the management style and organizational structure, individuals, the collective and organizational memory. These repositories, together with the different forms of knowledge that are identified – embrained, embodied, encultured, embedded and encoded – form the basis to manage transition between cultural archetypes. The cultural archetypes that are identified – controlled, fuzzy, inspiring and cultivated – serve in determining the innovation culture of an organization. Along with the organizational culture model, specific tools are proposed, namely the audit, intervention and maintenance tools, which can facilitate organizations in identifying knowledge structures, promoting change in those structures and maintaining knowledge constructs that promote innovation respectively. The ideas put forward in the paper can be complementary to the innovation processes that organizations go through in times of uncertainty. Such situations are described as crises in the adaptive cycle model, when organizations need to "actively search for innovations" (Abcouwer, Parson). The tools described in the paper can be used when organizations are in search of innovative ideas that would serve as alternative solutions to drive them out of a crisis situation. The cultural archetypes could also be seen as interpretations of the organizational culture that prevails in processes within the adaptive cycle model. The controlled and the fuzzy archetypes have many characteristics common with the equilibrium phase, where innovation is discouraged and management has become rigid. The inspiring and cultivated archetypes could be associated with the phases an organization goes through when creative innovation becomes the norm and change strategies flourish.