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Learning about learning in knowledge-intense organizations

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Purpose - This paper describes and analyses an attempt to engage in transformational learning, oriented to the development of a culture of innovation, at a medium-size software development organization in Australia. Design/methodology/approach - An action research methodology was used whereby continuous cycles of strategic social learning were collectively theorized, implemented, evaluated and renewed. Findings - The most important finding of this study is that of the influence of power relations and communication practices upon learning-for-innovation in organizations, and the need for the mediation of this influence through the creation of an organizational role that we have entitled an "external critic". The case also shows the central importance of the relational dimension of social capital generation to learning and the sensitivity of this dimension to power relations. Research limitations/implications - The research provides a rich analysis of one company's attempt to learn how to build and sustain a culture of innovation but, as with all case study research, the findings cannot be reliably generalized to other companies. Similarly, the case generates grounded theory that needs to be tested in other organizational contexts. Practical implications - The case raises the issue of power management in organizations and its relationship to social learning practices. In particular, it argues for the establishment of a "negotiated order" in organizations (through a mission, vision and core values that are collectively and meaningfully constituted) and for the role of an "external critic" whereby the power of the executive, especially, can be mediated effectively in the interests of mission-critical learning within the organization. Originality/value - The paper offers an original strategy for the mediation of power in organizations in the interests of greater learning, creativity and innovation.
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Keywords: Australia; Innovation; Learning Organizations; Management Power

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 2005

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