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Tacit Knowledge, Organisational Learning and Innovation A Societal Perspective


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  • Alice Lam


Knowledge and competence are increasingly regarded as the most critical resources of firms and economies. Much recent attention has focused, in particular, on the importance of 'tacit knowledge' for sustaining firms’ competitiveness, and its role in technological innovation and organisational learning. This paper argues that the extent to which tacit knowledge constitutes the knowledge base of the firm, and how it is formed and used are powerfully shaped by the broader social and institutional context. It builds upon the premise that the knowledge of the firm is socially embedded. It is rooted in organisational coordination mechanisms and routines which, in turn, are heavily influenced by societal institutions. Societal level factors such as education and training systems, the structures of the labour market and social relationships between different occupational groups are important factors shaping organisational structures and processes within which the knowledge of the firm is embedded. The paper develops a four-fold typology, at the individual, organisational and societal levels, as an analytical framework to explain the links between knowledge types, patterns of work organisation and societal institutions. It shows how the three levels interact to shape the learning and innovative capabilities of firms. The theory developed in this paper represents the first attempt to integrate the diverse strands of literature and different levels of analysis into a single coherent framework. It holds promise for interpreting and understanding the sources of differences in learning and innovation practices between firms, industries and countries.

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Paper provided by DRUID, Copenhagen Business School, Department of Industrial Economics and Strategy/Aalborg University, Department of Business Studies in its series DRUID Working Papers with number 98-22.

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Date of creation: 1998
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Handle: RePEc:aal:abbswp:98-22

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Keywords: Tacit knowledge; organisational learning; innovation; national innovation system; societal effect;

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Cited by:
  1. Alberto Melo, 2001. "Industrial Policy in Latin America and the Caribbean at the Turn of the Century," Research Department Publications 4281, Inter-American Development Bank, Research Department.
  2. Alberto Melo, 2001. "La política industrial en América Latina y el Caribe a comienzos del siglo," Research Department Publications 4282, Inter-American Development Bank, Research Department.
  3. Kirsten Foss & Nicolai J. Foss, 1999. "Organizing Economic Experiments The Role of Firms," DRUID Working Papers 99-5, DRUID, Copenhagen Business School, Department of Industrial Economics and Strategy/Aalborg University, Department of Business Studies.
  4. Bengt-Åke Lundvall & Jesper Lindgaard Christensen, 1999. "Extending and Deepening the Analysis of Innovation Systems - with Empirical Illustrations from the DISCO-project," DRUID Working Papers 99-12, DRUID, Copenhagen Business School, Department of Industrial Economics and Strategy/Aalborg University, Department of Business Studies.
  5. Alberto Melo, 2001. "The Innovation Systems of Latin America and the Caribbean," Research Department Publications 4283, Inter-American Development Bank, Research Department.
  6. Alberto Melo, 2001. "Los sistemas de innovación en América Latina y el Caribe," Research Department Publications 4284, Inter-American Development Bank, Research Department.
  7. Donatella Gatti, 2005. "Competence, Knowledge, and the Labour Market. The Role of complementarities," Labor and Demography 0507006, EconWPA.
  8. Dieter Ernst, 1999. "Responses to the Crisis Constraints to a Rapid Trade Adjustment in East Asia�s Electronics Industry," DRUID Working Papers 99-2, DRUID, Copenhagen Business School, Department of Industrial Economics and Strategy/Aalborg University, Department of Business Studies.
  9. Pyastolov, S.M., 2010. "Thresholds in institutional spaces," MPRA Paper 43854, University Library of Munich, Germany.


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