Background

In an economy where knowledge is dominant, daily operations in organisations should be designed to support knowledge productivity. Joseph Kessels, in 1995, is the first one to introduce the concept of knowledge productivity. The process of knowledge productivity entails:

  • identifying, gathering and interpreting relevant information,
  • using this information to develop new skills
  • and to apply these skills to improve and radically innovate operating procedures, products and services.

Learning lies at the heart of this process: tracing relevant information, and developing and applying new competencies are based on powerful learning processes.

 

The corporate curriculum
Previous research (Kessels, 1996; Kessels, Van Lakerveld & Van den Berg, 1998) indicates that the competency development, which is at the heart of knowledge productivity, can be supported by a corporate curriculum: a learning environment that develops the competencies needed to be knowledge productive.
This is not a formal curriculum prescribing the programs and courses that workers should attend. Rather, it involves transforming the workplace into an environment where learning and working integrate. Such a corporate curriculum serves seven related learning functions (Kessels, 1996):

  1. acquiring subject matter expertise and professional knowledge directly related to the organisation’s business and core competencies (e.g. a bank’s financial services or the care provided by a hospital);
  2. learning to identify and deal with new problems using the acquired subject matter expertise (e.g. switching to a new tax system or introducing customer-oriented patient care);
  3. cultivating reflective skills and meta-cognitions to find ways to locate, acquire and apply new knowledge (asking questions like: how do we learn from our experiences? Why is it that we excel in developing sustainable energy but are unable to convince those around us of its value?);
  4. acquiring communicative and social skills that help people access the knowledge network of others, participate in communities of practice and make learning at the workplace more productive;
  5. acquiring skills to regulate motivation, affinities, emotions and affections concerning working and learning (it is important for knowledge workers to identify personal themes and ways to develop these);
  6. promoting peace and stability to enable exploration, coherence, synergy and integration; employees should receive the opportunity to master and elaborate a plan, idea or operating procedure. However, too much peace and stability might bring about overly one-sided specialization and an excessive internal focus, complacency or laziness;
  7. causing creative turmoil, which leads to radical innovation. Creative turmoil also results from a powerful drive to resolve a tricky question. The cause is often an existential threat: a matter of winning or losing, surviving or going under, being in or out. However, not all unrest is creative turmoil. Disturbance alone, without the drive to innovate, is irritating; too much creative turmoil may yield a thousand new ideas but leaves little opportunity to elaborate any of them. The learning functions peace & stability and creative turmoil are clearly conflicting, even though they are supposed to offset one another.

 

 

Work environment
As the corporate curriculum is not situated in an isolated learning centre, but integrated in the work environment, it becomes necessary to look at conditions in a work environment that support the learning functions of the corporate curriculum.
Based on our research thus far, we can formulate three provisional development principles for a work environment that supports a corporate curriculum (Kessels, 2001):

  • Enhancing reciprocal appeal (the social context)
    Knowledge-productive workplaces are rich learning environments in which the social context fosters collaborative efforts. No single manager, instructor or trainer, however, is exclusively responsible. Participants work hard to maintain their reciprocal appeal, which means that they do their best to provide each other with a fruitful learning environment. Important characteristics of this social context for learning seem to be: reciprocal respect, appreciation and integrity, sufficient safety and openness for constructive feedback and confrontations. The communicative and interactive skills of the participants are required to meet high standards.
  • Searching for a passion (the content component)
    People are clever only if they want to be. A knowledge-productive environment encourages people to find their passion. Knowledge-productive environments encourage cultivation of a personal, substantive theme. Such an individual theme inspires curiosity and enables information to be traced more quickly. It facilitates establishing connections with attractive, professional networks and stimulates exceptional achievements where others might give up. Designers and knowledge workers need to become competent to navigate through the diffuse arena of affinity, motivation, passion and ambition to be able to apply their competence systematically.
  • Tempting towards knowledge productivity
    Cultivating reciprocal appeal serves primarily to create a favourable social context. Searching for a passion establishes the foundation for substance. Promoting knowledge productivity also requires the competence to work systematically on the social context and the substantive component. The desire to guide, manage, control and monitor is becoming increasingly difficult to fulfil. The growing interest in self-guidance is apparent in both work and learning contexts. This leads us to ask how we can tempt each other towards knowledge productivity. The main objective is to acquire the competence to design a workplace that develops sustainable instruments, useful for dealing with future issues: the competence to become cleverer, learning to learn, organising reflection, increasing reflexivity and basically applying knowledge to knowledge development.

 

More research
More research is needed to elaborate upon the relatively new concepts of knowledge productivity and the corporate curriculum. Under 'actual research' you'll find an overview of the research projects on knowledge productivity that are carried out at the moment, or that are just finished. Rosemary Harrison and Joseph Kessels have in their book (Human Resource Development in a knowledge economy) a complete chapter on 'Researching Knowledge Productivity' (Harrison & Kessels 2004, chapter 9). That chapter offers a nice overview of the research results until now and interesting issues that need further investigation.

 

References
Kessels, J.W.M. (1996). Knowledge productivity and the corporate curriculum. In J. F. Schreinemakers (Ed.), Knowledge management, Organisation, competence and methodology (pp. 168-174).
Würzburg: Ergon Verlag.

Kessels, J.W.M (2001). Verleiden tot kennisproductiviteit [Tempting towards knowledge productivity]. Inaugural lecture. Enschede: Universiteit Twente.

Kessels, J.W.M., Van Lakerveld, J. & Van den Berg, J. (1998). Knowledge productivity and the corporate curriculum. Paper presented at the annual meeting of AERA, San Diego, CA.