Cross-cultural knowledge transfer

In today’s ‘new’ economy, knowledge is the only meaningful resource. It’s what creates competitive advantage. Labour, capital, and land are no longer the dominant resources. Knowledge has become the resource, rather than a resource. To remain competitive an organisation must learn and innovative. However, cultural barriers impact upon an organisation’s ability to do so.

Knowledge as Power

Once upon a time—money power and muscle power were the ways to make a living. Today a power shift has occurred, and those with knowledge now own the ‘ultimate resource’ personally. They can go where ever they want and their knowledge walks with them.

Different types of knowledge Different types of thinking
Tacit—highly personal and hard to formalise. Difficult to share or transfer. Western approach—analytical—highly logical and reasoned.
Explicit—formal, systematic and easily communicated. Eastern approach—synthetic, cyclical, harmonious, and bringing together of opposites.

How Knowledge is Shared

Some cultures have great traditions of storytelling whilst others prefer to encode knowledge in books or computers. In some cultures, individuals ‘own’ their knowledge whilst others openly share. The transfer of knowledge is highly cultural. Multinational companies who do not understand the high relevance of cross cultural issues are likely to find much of their knowledge locked in the heads of their employees, instead of becoming organisational knowledge.

Organisational Learning, Core Competences, and Communities of Practice

Knowledge management and the growth of an organisation’s intellectual capital are vital to success in today’s knowledge economy. The culture created in a company will impact its ability to learn, disseminate, and innovate. Organisational learning and the development of core competencies only takes place when people trust and feel secure. However, how to ensure people trust and feel secure is culturally specific. Communities of practice may help in this, but there is not ‘one size that fits all’.

Different Cultural Values of Knowledge

Some societies believe knowledge is a personal asset which is for their own good and may be shared with others – at the right price! Retained knowledge is an asset and brings power and ’empires’ to the owner. Other cultures see knowledge as a community asset; to be shared and disseminated for the good of all. Copyright is problematic worldwide, due to these opposing ways of thinking.

Four Characteristics of Transferring Knowledge

  1. To express the inexpressible use figurative language, metaphors, symbolism and analogies.
  2. To disseminate an individual’s knowledge, adopt an attitude of sharing and trusting.
  3. When knowledge is shared it multiplies. (A candle loses nothing when lighting another candle). Unused knowledge withers and dies.
  4. New knowledge arises from uncertainty, ambiguity and redundancy.

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