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It’s not just rocket science –businesses need many different kinds of knowledge to compete

In business, the most brilliant new ideas can fail if not fully supported by many other forms of knowledge that already exist in the organisation.

Outcomes of the Economic and Social Research Council’s Evolution of Business Knowledge (EBK) research programme, that focuses on shifts in the way businesses create and exploit knowledge, will be highlighted at a one-day conference due to take place on Tuesday 17 October 2006 at the CBI Conference Centre in London. The event will bring together leading researchers, business stakeholders and policymakers. It will not only be an opportunity to learn about the findings of the 14 projects that make up the EBK programme but also to hear the views of prominent thinkers and practioners who are contributing to the knowledge economy debate.

To be competitive, the creation and exploitation of different forms of knowledge is important to all businesses. Knowledge can be generated through the big R&D and high-tech programmes favoured by many politicians. However, many other areas of knowledge are equally important. For example, even the boring kinds of management and organisational knowledge that create processes and systems can play a crucial role in supporting and sustaining innovation. At the micro-level, processes and relationships need to be managed such that knowledge flows across and between all parts of the organisation and, increasingly, between organisations too.

“At the conference, we won’t be presenting a broad canvas depicting overall trends in the UK economy. Instead, we’ll be painting rich miniatures that show knowledge is important to all types of businesses,” said Professor Harry Scarbrough, EBK Programme Director. “We will also illustrate some of the hidden constraints on firms’ ability to create and exploit knowledge.”

These constraints include, small business owners who are too concerned with ‘fire-fighting’ to develop organisational routines that would provide them with the ability to shift their business to a higher level or, in larger businesses, management knowledge that has become inward looking, or centred too much on the established identity of the firm. EBK findings have also raised concerns about the lack of real knowledge transfer between independent business consultants and their corporate clients.

“BBC TV’s Dragons’ Den programme shows that you need to come up with new ideas and have business acumen, but EBK projects also illustrate how hard it is to achieve this magic combination,” said Professor Scarbrough. “Unfortunately, creators of new ideas and the business people who manage them, or exploit their ideas, are often on different sides of some big cultural divides. The research done as part of the EBK programme is a step towards addressing this.”

The conference programme sets out to provide answers to questions increasingly faced by organisations across all sectors, including:

- How can we acquire the management skills and thinking needed to survive in highly competitive environments?

- What are the organisational choices faced if we’re to speed up innovation?

- How do we develop greater openness to new ideas and values?

- What does it mean for accounting and reporting systems if we see knowledge as a real business asset?

Annika Howard | alfa
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