Laszlo, K.C., and Laszlo, A. (2002). Evolving knowledge for development: The role of knowledge management in a changing world. Journal of Knowledge Management, 6(4), 400-412.

[I had tons of fun reading the article and writing this summary. Democratizing KM, creating a global learning community… Wowza!]

Laszlo and Laszlo (2002) trace the logical progression of knowledge management through two stages, from a focus on internal processes (“business knowledge of the first kind”) to a broadening of focus to include knowledge of “one’s market, one’s industry, one’s consumers” in the scope of knowledge whose management can add value to an organization (“business knowledge of the second kind,” p. 401). The authors label the first stage as atomistic and the second as egocentric and critique both as grounded in a mechanistic, reductionistic paradigm mirroring traditional science. Laszlo and Laszlo recommend moving away from a paradigm that views business through the metaphorical lens of conflict and urge knowledge management researchers to realign their efforts with a more global, cooperative mindset. To support the replacement of the business-as-machine metaphor with a business-as-organism metaphor, the authors describe what they view as the next logical direction for knowledge management: advancing to a focus on the creation and sharing of “evolutionary business knowledge” (p. 401). To a great extent, Laszlo and Laszlo’s “business knowledge of the third kind” is a shift from descriptive to normative research, less about business and more about society:

In a highly interconnected world, the field of knowledge management faces the challenge of making concrete and relevant contributions for the betterment of society and not only for the promotion of competitive advantage of business. This involves a research agenda through which, first, KM can foster business knowledge of the third kind for the expansion of a corporate citizenship agenda and the emergence of evolutionary learning corporations; and, second, KM can make significant contributions for the creation of human and social capital required for evolutionary development (p. 402)

Laszlo and Laszlo’s discussion of evolutionary development and the sciences from which that concept takes its cues (e.g. chaos theory, nonlinear thermodynamics, autopoietic theory, “universal flow” toward complexity in everything physical and biological) verges occasionally into New-Age-like fuzziness. At base, though, Laszlo and Laszlo prescribe a clear expansion of the realm of knowledge management upward from the base of data, information (the “know-what” of KM), and knowledge (KM’s “know-how”) to include the understanding and wisdom (the “know-why”) necessary to encompass the concepts of global citizenship and sustainability.

Methodologically, accessing the reason, values, intellect, intuition, and love (!) that turn know-what and know-how into know-why entails a practical shift from quantitative reaserch to more qualitative, participatory research (p. 405). They draw their participatory systemic research paradigm from “four interdependent ways of knowing” (from Heron and Reason, 1997). Integral to this model is practical knowing, which turns experiential, presentational, and propositional knowing into value-adding actions (p. 406).

That practical action should manifest itself in research that looks into the creation of evolutionary learning communities, communities that support not simply the imitation of previously acquired knowledge but the empowerment of learners throughout society who can better learn and adapt to new social and environmental conditions (p. 407).  Laszlo and Laszlo still see economic benefits as a reasonable goal for KM research and implementations, but they envision working through the framework of Learning Regions Theory to find ways to use knowledge management to promote not just competitive advantage for individual firms but also economic development for regions scaling up to the entire global community (p. 409). Laszlo and Laszlo identify numerous research areas where such lofty goals may be pursued, including research on facilitating corporate citizenship, developing design methods and programs to expand participation of the global population in policy-making and regional development, and building a “global learning society” (p. 411). In the most direct terms, Laszlo and Laszlo’s profoundly democratic research agenda calls for a “big picture” knowledge management that equips all of humanity with greater access to existing knowledge and expands humanity’s ability build new knowledge and meaning in response to economic, environmental, and political problems.