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Staying in the Know

Book Description

Recent corporate crises such as BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill debacle and the Libor rate-fixing scandal in the City of London have a common thread. The troubles simmered below the CEO’s radar, and by the time the problems were revealed, most of the damage had been done. As organizations and business environments become more complex, how are executives supposed to keep tabs on what competitors and employees are doing? Although many management experts have assumed that better information systems and more data are the most promising way forward, authors Davide Nicolini, Maja Korica and Keith Ruddle are skeptical. Rather, they say, the way for senior executives to “stay in the know” is by assembling and maintaining what they call a “personal knowledge infrastructure.” And while information technologies may be part of this personal knowledge infrastructure, the authors say technology is just one of the components. The article is based on a two-year study of the day-to-day work of seven CEOs of some of the largest and most challenging hospital- and mental health-based organizations in England. As settings for studying the challenges of using information and knowledge to stay on top, the authors note, health-care organizations sit at the crossroads between the private and public sectors and are expected to meet multiple, often competing, demands. The authors sought to answer a simple question: How did the CEOs know what they needed to know in order to be effective at their jobs? While the importance of informational roles to executives is well established, the authors take the idea a step further, arguing that managers — and especially senior executives — are only as good at acquiring and interpreting critical information as their personal knowledge infrastructures. At times, the authors argue, simple things such as talking to customers or networking with board members are more important than using sophisticated new tools, provided they are done methodically and with some purpose. Selecting when particular elements of a personal knowledge infrastructure are appropriate depends on the circumstances. Understanding and, when needed, overhauling one’s personal knowledge infrastructure should be routine for executives. The article examines how this can be done.