Running Head: ORGANIZATIONAL EPISTEMOLOGY 1 Organizational Epistemology St. Rachel E. Ustanny University of Phoenix ORGANIZATIONAL EPISTEMOLOGY 2
There are different perspectives about the origin of knowledge, which have influenced the development of concepts such as a priori and a posteriori truth, epistemic regress, and sensual perception—Descartes (as cited in Cooper, 1999) argued that there are certain undeniable truths, which are obtained from our senses; Feldman (2003) noted that truth is obtained through one of or a combination of six means: perception, memory, testimony, introspection, reasoning, and rational insight; Feldman (2003) also reported that evidentialists believe that propositions must be substantiated; Bonjour (1978) articulated that truth is based on the existence of a priori knowledge, which is proven by engaging in epistemic regress; Schnapper (2009) noted that modern democracy calls for greater equality, including the recognition and acceptance of all perspectives as truth; and Webb (2007) reported that truth is that which is naturally experienced. In light of these varying perspectives about the origin of truth or knowledge, one cannot deny that the study of epistemology is very important to the development of new information, and socioeconomic progress.
From an organizational perspective, epistemology provides a framework for critically analyzing and planning for the management and leadership of contemporary businesses—The change in the mode of production to that of knowledge work as reported by Drucker (1999) points to the need for contemporary organizational leaders to manage knowledge as a means of increasing productivity. This situation underscores the importance of deconstructing the origin of knowledge that workers produce on a daily basis. Epistemological Theories The multiple perspectives about the origin of knowledge have stimulated much criticism and skepticism about the validity and generalizability of epistemological theories. Nevertheless, this situation has continued to fuel the development of new theories, which have contributed to ORGANIZATIONAL EPISTEMOLOGY 3 the persistence of the epistemological debate over several centuries, and influenced its applicability to contemporary social problems.
New theories about the origin of knowledge are still emerging as society is faced with unique challenges and alternate ways of learning and testing validity. Natural epistemology and the knowledge work theories will be examined as a means of garnering a better understanding of how modern society deals with and conceptualizes knowledge and uses it to improve social structures and systems. Four longstanding knowledge theories will also be discussed to facilitate an evaluation of the influence of past knowledge theories on contemporary problems—these four theories are: empiricism, rationalism, pragmatism, and relativism. Naturalized epistemology challenged the belief that one has to engage in epistemic regress to justify truth.
It was proposed that truth is determined by scientific investigations and explanations (Feldman, 2003, p. 167). The tools, methods, and principles of science provide epistemologists with the means of testing and justifying knowledge, therefore machinery such as a lie detector enables contemporary investigators to examine individuals’ reactions (heartbeat, sweat production, and levels of anxiety) to determine if they are being truthful about a situation. This approach directly contradicts empiricism, which articulated that sensual perceptions enable human beings to determine truth. In this case, a lie detector would not be necessary to determine truth as the investigator would be able to use his or her senses to detect truth and untruth.
While there is some merit in the empiricists’ approach, naturalized epistemology presented a replicable method that is less likely to fail due to human error. Knowledge work as argued by Drucker (1999) represents a shift in the nature of production from being purely manual as was contended by management theorists of the 20 th century (p. 79). This shift has increased the significance of epistemology in the workplace in that
Knowledge work has challenged the society to come to terms with the importance of epistemology in everyday life and to find ways of optimizing it for development. Knowledge management is proposed by Wong and Aspinwall (2004) as a strategy for increasing the productivity of the knowledge worker, but despite this there are still challenges as it relates to those who possess tacit knowledge—the major concern for companies is the loss of productivity advances when the tacit knowledge worker leaves. It has therefore become increasingly important to find out how individuals gain knowledge in the first place, and then attempt to replicate those actions that are engaged in on a daily basis, which optimizes productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness.
One cannot solve the epistemological problems of the contemporary workplace without reflecting on earlier conceptions about epistemology as articulated by empiricists, rationalists, pragmatists, and relativists. Empiricism argued that knowledge is derived from human sensual experiences and perceptions (Cooper, 1999, p. 117). This view is quite the opposite of rationalism, which contended that knowledge existed (a priori) before humans experienced it; therefore individuals derived knowledge out of necessity, which is later universalized if there are no exceptions (Cooper, 1999, p. 166). Pragmatism challenged empiricism and rationalism by arguing that the a posteriori and a priori conceptions of truth are false because knowledge is derived from practice, which results in the formulation of theories and provides opportunities for continuously evising and reformulating the theory to improve practice (Webb, 2007, p. 10691070). Relativism opened up the epistemological discourse to multiple perspectives of truth, so that knowledge is seen as socially constructed, experiential, dynamic, and variable—There is no ORGANIZATIONAL EPISTEMOLOGY 5 single truth that guides the solution to problems and knowledge is gained from all of the various means articulated by individuals, thus the empiricist is no more correct than the rationalist, nor the pragmatist, nor the natural epistemologist. There is merit in all perspectives and all must be considered when seeking justifications for the truth (Schnapper, 2009, p. 177).
In light of the latter argument, management theorists must look to a wide range of epistemological perspectives to increase leaders’ understanding about knowledge work and how to increase its productivity. The tacit and explicit knowledge that workers possess is founded in first principles, as articulated by empiricists, and rationalists; as well as obtained from practice that the worker encounters as he or she carries out their duties—this (latter) pragmatic source indicates that each worker has the opportunity to discover truth in the execution of his or her duties. The fact that empiricism, rationalism, and pragmatism present valid perspectives about the sources of the knowledge worker’s knowledge indicates that there are multiple sources of truth, which contributes to the relativity of tacit knowledge work.
Application of Knowledge to Organizational Leadership and Management The shift in the 21st century from manual to knowledge work has necessitated that management theorists and leaders critically examine and develop means for measuring and increasing productivity. This has contributed to the need for increased attention to different forms of knowledge, particularly distinguishing tacit and explicit knowledge to enhance management theorists’ abilities to capture the steps and processes involved in producing specific outputs (Manyika, 1996). Tacit knowledge is particularly difficult to capture, because it is the know-how that individual workers possess that they acquired as a result of their experience with particular tools, and their responses to unique challenges that stimulated them to innovate. ORGANIZATIONAL EPISTEMOLOGY 6
Making tacit knowledge more public within organizations is critical to the improvement of productivity and succession planning—According to Ambrosini and Bowman (2001) “tacit knowledge in particular may block adaptation to changes in the environment, hinder innovation and lead to the continuation of inferior work practices” (p. 812). It requires that organizational leaders examine epistemological theories to get a better understanding of the foundation of the know-how that individual knowledge workers possess. Pragmatism is the epistemological theory that facilitates the most likely explanation for the origin of tacit knowledge in organizations as according to Ambrosini and Bowman (2001) “tacit knowledge is context specific, is typically acquired on the job or in the situation where it is used” (p. 13); so pragmatists’ belief that theory emerges from practice and is applied back to it with the possibility of revising and reformulating it presents an explanation of tacit knowledge originating in experiences as they are encountered. Senge (2010) and Drucker (1999) have been my most influential theorists because of the fact that their propositions have helped to explain and present solutions to the challenges facing my organization. They argued that there are methods that can be used to help increase productivity of knowledge workers in an ever-changing world, which are aimed at measuring and improving the contribution of knowledge to organizational success.
If companies fail to capture the tacit knowledge of workers, they are bound to face periods of slump when such workers leave the organization temporarily or permanently, as well as fail to make significant advances, because workers are not keeping abreast of new knowledge. The effective development of knowledge-based companies therefore depends on the implementation of strategies for standardizing and sharing such knowledge. In addition, there is a general need for the firm to control productivity so as to eliminate the possibility of being held at ransom by employees. ORGANIZATIONAL EPISTEMOLOGY 7 Converting companies to learning organizations was proposed by Senge (2010) as a means of increasing productivity and sharing knowledge.
Five disciplines were proposed for solving the productivity challenges that face contemporary organizations: personal mastery, mental models, shared visions, team learning, and systems thinking. It is believed that the learning organization sought to create holistic changes in companies so that knowledge could be better managed, and all stakeholders could see that success was dependent on the relationship among the individual departments and the organization as a corporate entity (p. 2). It is important to note that in the learning organization, the tacit knowledge and skills that workers possess, is represented by personal mastery, and is shared with other workers and the organization through team learning. Knowledge management was proposed as a strategy for restoring power, over production, to the organization.
Wong and Aspinwall (2001) noted that a knowledge management implementation framework should have five characteristics: “(1) a clear structure on how to conduct and implement knowledge management, (2) clear distinction among the types of knowledge to be managed, (3) highlight the necessary knowledge management processes or activities needed to manipulate knowledge, (4) include the factors that will affect performance, and (5) provide a balanced view between the role of technology and human beings in knowledge management” (p. 100). The knowledge management implementation framework serves as a strategy for reducing the autonomy of the knowledge worker, while increasing the control of the organization over productivity. Unlike the learning organization, knowledge management does not seek to create holistic change in the company, but isolates knowledge work as an aspect of production, and identifies the elements that are necessary for management to manipulate so as to increase productivity as was done in the time of Taylor (Drucker, 1999, p. 80). ORGANIZATIONAL EPISTEMOLOGY 8
The Future of Epistemology in Organizational Leadership Epistemology has an important role to play in the development of human services organizations. The concept of good governance that guides the effective management of such organizations articulates some of the productivity issues addressed by Drucker (1999). In the case of my organization, productivity is hindered by the fact that knowledge about specific critical aspects of work is possessed by the accountant who does not welcome succession planning, responds negatively to queries from the board of directors, works in isolation, and makes decisions for others and their departments unilaterally.
This situation has contributed to inefficiency and ineffectiveness in a number of core areas of work, and as argued by Ambrosini and Bowman (2001) contributes to inferior work practices (p. 812). Good governance argues that successful management is characterized by accountability, transparency, participatory leadership, and responsiveness. This is reiterated by Drucker (1999) when he noted that productivity was curtailed by knowledge workers autonomy in deciding the task, and having unilateral control over the production process—The work done by the accountant is knowledge work and the fact that it is held only by him contributes to a situation where the organization is held at ransom.
If there are opportunities for the improvement of the accounting function, this is hindered because of the lack of access by the organization to it, and the general lack of responsiveness to good governance practices. In the case of my accountant, deciding what to purchase without consultation, and refusing to answer questions posed by the board directors contributes to productivity problems. Drucker (1999) noted that overcoming this situation “requires changes in attitude not only on the part of the individual knowledge worker, but on the part of the whole organization” (p. 92). ORGANIZATIONAL EPISTEMOLOGY 9 The problems with the accountant articulated above can be solved by one of two or a combination of the following approaches. These recommendations were derived from weeks five and six discussion questions.
These discussions enabled me to have a better understanding of the needs and challenges of my organization, and provided me with the opportunity to evaluate the company and make recommendations for its improvement. The following two recommendations represent the possible actions that I may undertake to increase organizational productivity: (1) reform the company to that of a learning organization, which takes a systems approach to productivity, thus the failure of accounts is not seen as an isolated element, but is the responsibility of all employees and departments, therefore all employees see it as critical to learn the tacit knowledge possessed by the accountant so that they are better poised to recommend changes.
When all employees have a shared vision, greater pressure will be placed on the accountant to be accountable, transparent, and participatory in his leadership; and or (2) develop a knowledge management system to capture all of the job roles that are assigned to the accountant and the various steps that he undertakes to fulfill them—There will be need to integrate feedback components with the clinic nurse, statistical clerk, and clinic receptionist, before commodities can be purchased; and in order to successfully meet his reporting obligations he must answer specific questions about the financial status of the organization, which will automatically be shared with the board directors. Such a system could eliminate the lack of transparency, participation, and accountability that has curtailed efficiency and effectiveness. The implementation of a knowledge management system would also help the organization to be better operated as a learning organization, as the steps for each task that is performed by the accountant would be accessible to leadership, which could be used to teach others by way of team learning strategies. ORGANIZATIONAL EPISTEMOLOGY 10
The future of management of human service organizations in the knowledge worker age is not totally distinct from traditional epistemology—it integrates critical concepts of the past to help solve new and emergent challenges. Empiricism, rationalism, pragmatism, and relativism are four of the longstanding epistemological concepts that guide management practitioners about the origin of tacit knowledge—On one hand know-how originates from the theoretical foundations of empiricism and rationalism as seen in the in the knowledge that individuals obtain through formal education that prepares them to fit into the workplace; and on the other hand it originates from the encountered experiences in the workplace.
Both views are correct and hence when theorizing about the origin of knowledge in knowledge work, management theorists must be mindful that there are multiple valid perspectives. ORGANIZATIONAL EPISTEMOLOGY References Ambrosini, V. & Bowman, C. (2001). Tacit knowledge: Some suggestions for 11 operationalization. Journal of Management Studies, 38(6), pp. 811-829. Retrieved from http://web. ebscohost. com. ezproxy. apollolibrary. com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer? sid=e9e 776b0-e4f1-46a2-af57-b1403102e01b%40sessionmgr112&vid=2&hid=107 Bayer, B. (2007). How not to refute Quine: Evaluating Kim’s Alternatives to Naturalized Epistemology. The Southern Journal of Philosophy, 45(4), 473-495. Retrieved from http://search. proquest. com. ezproxy. apollolibrary. com/docview/218154099? accountid=35 812 Bonjour, L. (1978).
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