posted 3 Oct 2000 in Volume 4 Issue 2
Book review: Knowledge Capitalism
TITLE: Knowledge Capitalism
EDITOR: Alan Burton-Jones
PUBLISHED: OUP, 1999
The first thing to be said about Knowledge Capitalism is that it is by no means a light read. The book’s 220 plus pages offer the reader a very comprehensive overview of current thinking on knowledge management, the liberal use of charts and diagrams also adds to the value of the book. What’s more, it is clear that the book has been meticulously researched as each chapter has a comprehensive bibliography for the reader to follow up any points of interest.
The somewhat catchy title of the book comes from the author’s own belief that “knowledge is fast becoming the most important form of global capital”. This statement goes right to the heart of what the book is about – and represents a wake up call to all managers in firms, both large and small. This belief is further highlighted in the preface to the book where the author states that “among the various factors currently causing change in the economy, none is more important than the changing role of knowledge”. It is the author’s aim to try and inform the reader as to what organisations and work will be like in the future by a thorough examination of economic and social change from the perspective of the knowledge management practitioner.
The book is divided into four parts, which are outlined in the preface so that the reader gets a feel for what each section is about – for those who only want to dip into the book this gives an opportunity to identify which section or sections will be of most interest. The four main sections of the book are:
- The Knowledge Revolution
- Navigating Knowledge Markets
- The Knowledge Based Firm
- The Knowledge Escalator.
Each section of the book has between two and four separate chapters. This reviewer found the chapter on ‘Rewards for Knowledge’ particularly useful. This is because it has traditionally been an issue to identify and communicate the benefits of knowledge management in organisations. The author seems to be quite keenly switched on to this hard-nosed attitude, and peppers the book with subject headings such as ‘how can I make money from knowledge’. A further strength in this regard is the use of examples and case studies to illustrate theoretical points with life at the coal face. The book is peppered with examples of what companies are actually doing to manage what they know and to reinforce a learning culture. For example, when discussing ‘knowledge auditing’ the author tells us that: “Skandia, the Swedish insurance and financial services group, is currently acting as a pathfinder in developing its own internal intellectual capital model and publishing reports on it alongside the groups financial accounting reports.”
Another such case, again from financial services, can be seen in the example of Charles Schwab when discussing the ‘learning imperative’: “Schwab...has undertaken a nation-wide school to work initiative in the USA called ‘School to Careers’. The programme contains three components, school based learning, work based learning and ‘connecting activities’, that link experiences students have in school with experiences in the workplace. On average each student spends 150 hours in the programme.”
There is extensive use of such examples throughout the book as well as the use of case studies. Whilst it has to be admitted that these case studies are not particularly in-depth, it is also true to say that they are concise and convey much useful information in the form of statistics, anecdotes and quotes from people within the firm studied. Furthermore, there are more than adequate references, in many cases, to enable the reader to follow up on any points of interest. Of particular convenience are the references to useful free stuff on the Internet, and from a surprising array of sources.
The author’s writing style leans towards the academic. There is a noticeable sub-theme throughout the book on what could be called the knowledge economy, for want of a better term. The author often draws attention to the effects on workers and employment in the knowledge economy and much of the book seems to have a bent towards macro-economic analysis. As stated earlier, this book has been well researched and it is clear from the author’s writing style that he has achieved a healthy balance between academic and real world content. This approach is indicative of the author’s background; Burton-Jones has held senior positions in commerce as well as in the world of management consulting. Overall the writing style of the author, which facilitates the inclusion of many anecdotes as well as quotes from various literary sources, make the book an informative and useful text – just make sure you set aside enough time to do the book justice. KM
Dermot G Barnes is a knowledge officer for IBM’s Management Consulting Arm for the telecoms & media industries in Europe, Middle East and Africa. He can be contacted at: barnesd@UK.ibm.com