John Hagel rightly said that because knowledge changes rapidly, knowledge flow is more important than knowledge stock. This article will help you understand the knowledge flow definition more clearly.
Knowledge Flow definition
Knowledge flow refers to the process of passing knowledge between the internal organization’s entities and between the organization and its external environment. The knowledge flow process must follow certain rules and channels, which are defined and modified by the organization’s management.
Knowledge flow provides a competitive edge to organizations and is a mandatory process to take place. Let’s discover how knowledge flow occurs and brings changes across organizations.
Table of Contents
Explanation of knowledge flow in organizations
Knowledge flow definition from the perspective of organizations is critical. Today organizations have attained the status of learning organizations because knowledge is considered a competitive advantage, and knowledge flow is imperative to the success of organizations.
Considering organizations as the center of knowledge, knowledge flow occurs:
- Across the organization’s entities
- From the external environment into the organization
- From the organization to the external environment
Moreover, it is important to understand the role of management in knowledge flow, which enables it to follow specific rules and pass through different channels.
The article What is the purpose of knowledge is very helpful in understanding the role of knowledge in organizational success, do have a read!
Let us explore each perspective in detail.
Passing Knowledge between internal organization’s entities
Organizations are “pipes” in the process of knowledge flow. Since the knowledge flow definition refers to the transmission of knowledge, organizations can either facilitate or restrict the flow of knowledge.
Knowledge flow within organizations occurs in a two-way direction, i.e., from top to bottom or from bottom to top. Hence, exploration and exploitation are the two concepts that explain this two-way flow of knowledge within an organization.
Information or knowledge flow from the organizational level to the group or individual level is defined as exploitation. It is called exploitation because it exploits the organization’s information or knowledge so that it is understandable by individuals and groups. Exploitation changes the behaviors and cognitions of individuals within an organization.
Exploitation also stresses that individuals or groups should improve or change their behaviors according to the new knowledge the organization has acquired.
Exploration is the flow of knowledge from the individual or group level to the organizational level. It also stresses that organizations should bring changes according to the new integrative knowledge among individuals and groups. Exploration suggests that organizations should bring a change in their strategy, culture, structure, or processes.
However, studies suggest organizations should have a balance between exploration and exploitation to be prosperous.
Passing knowledge from the external environment to the organization
The most important concept to consider in the knowledge flow definition is “transmission.” The transmission of knowledge and information creates an essential relationship between an organization and the external environment. Hence, knowledge flow acts as a bridge between the organization and its external environment.
Organizations use the knowledge from the external environment for various purposes. Knowledge flow from the external environment into the organization shapes its planning, decision-making, culture, and strategy. Therefore, an organization must keep an eye on the changing variables of the external environment.
Inbound knowledge flow:
Inbound knowledge flow refers to the accumulation of external knowledge within an organization. It helps the employees and organizations both to learn new capabilities.
Examples of inbound knowledge flows are customer feedback, previous assignments, training activities, and different types of professional knowledge from libraries, books, and publications.
Organizations can never remain static. They need to transform according to the changes in the external environment. Changes in the external environment require organizations to make changes in their structure, culture, processes, and number of personnel.
Therefore, organizations need to understand the knowledge flow from the external environment and make changes over time to meet the external environment’s demands.
Passing knowledge from the organization to the external environment
Knowledge flow definition is incomplete without understanding the outflux of information from organizations to external environments.
Outbound Knowledge Flow:
Knowledge flow from organizations to the external environment is termed outbound flow. In the case of outbound knowledge flow, organizations either share information with the external environment or sell information as knowledge products.
An evident and concise example of knowledge transmission from an organization to the external environment is in the form of services the organization offers to the environment.
Knowledge flow from the organization to the environment involves sharing information with the customers and partners. The primary aim behind this outbound knowledge flow is to generate value and strengthen the relationship between an organization and its external stakeholders.
Sharing information with external stakeholders allows organizations to strengthen their competitive position in the market, become more responsive to their customers and partners, and improve their loyalty and service quality towards their stakeholders.
Why is knowledge flow within an organization necessary?
Knowledge flow is mandatory for an organization if it wants to succeed. Knowledge flow demands that an organization is open and curious about new knowledge and changes. It should provide its managers and employees the independence to challenge conventional wisdom continuously. This would lead to an environment and culture of cultivating learning.
In the absence of knowledge within organizations, they will continue to operate with the old habits and processes. As a result, the organizations’ status quo will remain unchanged, and they will not be able to cope with new challenges.
To understand the importance of knowledge flow in organizations and how knowledge changes from one form to another, read the article Can knowledge Change?
Rules for the successful flow of knowledge within an organization
For the successful implementation of knowledge flow within an organization, companies should follow a discrete set of rules. Some of the rules are:
- The top management of the organization should make sure to provide all the individuals with an enabling environment. Top management should invest in people and create an environment of trust.
- Organizations should implement specific measurement tools that track the extent to which knowledge flow occurs within an organization.
- Knowledge flow is a dynamic variable that operates on the supply and demand rule. Therefore, knowledge always flows towards a high demand or low knowledge potential.
- The successful implementation of the knowledge flow process in an organization demands accurate collection, transmission, and then circulation of knowledge among all stakeholders.
The basic rule of knowledge flow in organizations is that it works on an out-and-pull strategy. In the pull strategy, a knowledge node has a demand for knowledge. Therefore, it looks for a node that has high knowledge.
In the push strategy, a knowledge node has so much knowledge that it transfers or distributes knowledge into its surroundings.
Different channels for Knowledge flow within an organization
Various channels can help implement knowledge flow within organizations. However, the top management needs to monitor the flow of knowledge within the organization to ensure that no confidential information is being leaked.
Some knowledge flow channels are technology-driven, such as slack, organization emails, webinars, etc. However, knowledge flow is also implemented through many other channels that are not backed by technology and can be both formal and informal.
An organization’s top management can issue a weekly or monthly newsletter to disseminate important information among groups and individuals. Encouraging two-way dialogue and increasing the feedback loop is also essential for effective knowledge flow within organizations.
Memos are also a good way to share a piece of specific information with selective people. Memos enhance selective knowledge flow within the organization.
Other than these, quarterly, monthly and annual meetings are also an excellent medium for knowledge flow within organizations. However, these media are more formal. In the informal medium for knowledge flow, the day-to-day interaction between employees and daily stand-ups are better examples.
To conclude, knowledge flow is a critical dynamic variable. It requires the contribution of all stakeholders and an enabling environment to operate.
Knowledge flow refers to the process of passing knowledge between internal organization’s entities and between the organization and its external environment. The knowledge flow process must follow certain rules and channels, which are defined and modified by the organization’s management.
Knowledge flows like a river towards a node with less knowledge and more demand. Where it is in excess, it gets distributed from the organization to the external environment or vice versa, but not without specific rules.