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5.4 The Bottom Line: Tacit Knowledge Creation and Sharing
Most of the knowledge creation in design organizations occurs within offices, in the interaction of people with materials, projects and places. Although there are a common process beyond the geographical barriers of a design organization, I found differences in the work styles and cultures across locations. A great deal of knowledge sticks and remain in the local offices (in a spatial context) and, sometimes, it is not easy shared.
Most of this knowledge is produced by a “tacit and situated knowing” in a place within a particular urban ecology. The ecology or the building, as I did describe, might constrain or enable, depending on the circumstances and choices, such tacit knowledge production and situated knowing capacity.
As Polanyi (1966) put it, such tacit knowing is part of every act of knowing. The explicit knowledge only makes sense and can become a real competitive advantage with the tacit knowing capacity at play. In this sense, what it is at issue is not explicit-tacit knowledge conversion, but rather the disclosing (and working) of tacit knowledge to make explicit knowledge valuable, tradable and mobile (Brown and Duguid 2001).
Our body is “the ultimate instrument of all our external [explicit] knowledge, whether intellectual or practical.” (Polanyi 1966: 15) The urban location, the building, the workplace and even the users, as we saw, are critical to foster learning and awareness in our body-based relationship with the creation and sharing of knowledge.
For this reason, workplace making is such an important activity and factor of innovation because incorporate the body and its tacit knowing capacity in the design and learning of the work space. The design of spaces that overlook the resources of the body (of the communities and teams of practice) for “place making” can damage one of the sources of organizational innovation.
What can we do, when as Moggridge says, “If you want to get effective tacit knowledge sharing, you need something you can experience like a physical browsing.” The body is a fundamental source of knowledge in design organizations (and probably in other types), but if we think of an experience of physical browsing across locations, or even floors in a building, we may encounter important limits for knowledge sharing.
On the one hand, the body cognition supported by urban ecologies, agile and evolving workplaces is crucial, and on the other hand, there is a limit on the scalability and extension of that cognition across physical boundaries.
How can organizations and leaders manage such body-based resources and capacities and overcome the related limits of tacit knowledge sharing?
By enabling workplace making and by spreading the practice of tacit knowing and the relation to which the explicit knowledge makes sense because “knowledge, in short, runs on rails laid by practice” (Brown and Duguid 2001: 204). Both the enabling of workplace making and the spreading of work practice are intimately related to space design and space-in-use.
One the one hand, the design of spaces has to avoid “overdesign,” anticipate breakdowns on work situations, and allow agility by flexible materials, activity settings and furniture. On the other, attending at specific and productive spaces-in-use in one location such as a room, a project space, a particular way to work in a open space that may trigger, as we saw, less territorialities and more shared ownership (knowledge). Also attending at features of a building-in-use might open directions and know-how for spreading practice across locations and thus, enable the conditions for tacit knowledge sharing.
One of my objectives in this thesis has been to highlight the relevance of different types of space on a certain type of organizational innovation. The life and evolution of an organization, so to speak, has to do with its embodiment.
The “making” of organizational places in the case studies and, probably in other cases, is something that deserves attention, care and action not of only one department or level (such as real estate people or managers) but rather require the participation of a great deal of members. To enable such “making” and co-evolution is to enable organizational agility and collective leadership to deal with changing environments and increasing uncertainty. That is to say that not only the mind but also the body and its surrounding spaces have to be ready to learn.
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