posted 7 Feb 2002 in Volume 5 Issue 5
Ana Neves reviews Opposites Attract by Hans de Brujin & Claire de Nerée tot Babberich
Title: Opposites Attract: Competing Values in Knowledge Management
Authors: Hans de Brujin & Claire de Nerée tot Babberich
Publisher: Lemma Publishers, 2000
Opposites Attract focuses on two possible approaches to knowledge management – the analytical and the actor approaches – and the balancing role the knowledge manager must play.
The analytical approach focuses on determining a sequence of activities that, when performed in the right order, leads to effective knowledge management. This approach defends knowledge management as a goal-oriented, planned and often integrated activity, in which IT plays an important role. According to the analytical approach, knowledge management focuses on codifying and formalising knowledge, and on the impacts KM has on the organisational structure. The actor approach, on the other hand, puts the knowledge professional as the central focus. In this context, the knowledge manager is more concerned with putting people in contact with each other than with analysing knowledge requirements and gaps.
After listing the advantages and disadvantages of both approaches, the authors attempt to outline the strengths each has over the other, in turn highlighting the importance of managing the competing values that stem from each philosophy. By sticking exclusively to one approach and not managing these values, an organisation risks losing the benefits offered by the other approach. A wise static or dynamic balance between the two can, therefore, represent the answer to effective knowledge management.
The authors recognise how difficult achieving this even-handedness can be, and discuss the influence the specific organisational structure (hierarchy or network) can have on a manager’s behaviour. They also maintain that the differences between both types of structure demand distinct manager profiles. For example, a manager in a network organisation has to dictate the rules of the game, rather than what has to be done. In this instance, managing a KM programme is not project management but process management. No matter what approach is taken, the manager’s role is to verify that the results are being achieved and lead the team towards the final goal, at the same time letting the team members decide how to get there using the tacit or explicit underlying rules.
This book is very different from anything I’ve read to date. It does, however, relate to other authors’ work. For instance, nurturing communities of practice, as Etienne Wenger understands them, is an excellent practical example of the actor approach, while the analytical approach is reflected in the work of Wayne Applehans et al.
The authors fully succeed in meeting the goals they set out at the beginning of the book. They have produced a provocative work in which two completely different approaches to knowledge management are shown as being complementary to each other. But the book does not teach us how to juggle them, nor does it give us a checklist of what to do. Instead it relies on the reader’s experience and expertise to digest the rich content and apply it to their own work. It questions our assumptions and challenges our mindset. It is one of those books that really make you think.
Opposites Attract may be useful to those that are planning to start a knowledge management programme. It will certainly explain the different approaches and aspects to consider during the programme’s lifetime. The book will also be useful to knowledge professionals already involved in KM activities, in that it will make them feel they have a choice of how to behave and what to value most depending on their individual circumstances.
This is not an easy book to read, but it prompts the reader towards a deep experience-related reflection, while suggesting possible theoretical ways of managing knowledge. The authors believe that effective knowledge management can only be achieved when taking the best of both actor and analytical approaches. Each clearly has its own advantages and the time to apply the right one has to be carefully picked. The image the book presents is one of managers having to act as puppeteers; pulling the right threads, at the right time, to bring the puppets (professionals), the scenario (organisational structure) and the audience (external environment) together for an outstanding performance (knowledge management).
Ana Neves is the editor of KMOL. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org