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Theory of Knowledge

Reconstruction of Qur’anic Thoughts with an Attempt to Unify Rationalism and Empiricism

By S.M. Zakir Hussain (Bangladesh)

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Knowledge Recycling
In Organizations



Now it is not a new concept that an organization is a living, learning entity. Chris Argyris and Donald Schon first developed this idea in their 1978 book Organizational Learning. Learning by the people of an organization is, as a whole, considered to be the learning by the organization itself. But learning as a natural, evolutionary process taking place in an organization may not be satisfactory enough in view of the need of the changing environment. This necessitates the management to anticipate the future and deliberately create a changing atmosphere within the environment to ensure ongoing learning. Peter Senge, in his book The Fifth Discipline, called such an organization a learning organization. Today the concept of the learning organization has become part and parcel of the concept of Organization Development, Management of Change, Managing the Future, and so on. In a word, if organizations want to survive, they must learn to go on learning in order to achieve adaptive ability. But just as a machine or system goes on wasting part of what it keeps producing, so also an organization that intends to deliberately create an environment for learning cannot avoid creating a huge waste of knowledge. It is, however, to be kept in mind that the wastage caused by inaccurate knowledge or lack of knowledge is not the same as what we call waste of knowledge. Rather, it refers to the knowledge that has not been properly used or identified or has been neglected. This paper seeks to identify and describe some aspects of the related issue.


This is not an empirical research in the statistical sense. Rather, the article only sketches the outline of another probable data-supported research that may be done on a large scale to scrutinize into the validity and viability of the concept termed “knowledge recycling”. The present study, therefore, was conducted only to help identify the related variables and factors. In doing this over thirty employees of ten organizations were interviewed in a very informal way. A questionnaire was used but the questions were not based on any scale, nor were the responses treated statistically.

Observation and Interpretation:

It was discovered that some employees were either not very satisfied or willing to take any initiative to learn more than what they already had learned for some reasons. The issues are discussed under the following headings:

   1.   Knowledge and Identification
         2.   The Rusting of Knowledge
   3.   Knowledge Farming vs. Knowledge Purchase
   4.   Lack of Value Addition
   5.   Lack of Competition
   6.   The Absence of the Feeling of Risk
   7.   The Control-Sensitivity of Knowledge
   8.   Beyond-Value Perception

The following paragraphs explain the above points:

Knowledge and Identification:

A good number of first-line managers, including some mid-level managers, reported that they did not feel like taking any special initiative to learn something new or to divulge something that they knew and considered valuable, because they feared that even if they did, they would not be identified as the originators or sources of that knowledge. If the culture of the organization is “too socialistic”, such fear can attack the creativity and feeling of the identity of employees.

Just as man wants to discover the truth about the reality within and without and thus earn knowledge, so also he wants to have himself discovered once he has acquired the knowledge that he thinks might be important to the organization somehow or other. This hidden desire for being chosen is something that people usually do not express explicitly, but if they remain neglected, there grows in them a suppressed dissatisfaction which may result in the death of creativity in them.

If employees suspect the probability that any knowledge created in the system will get lost in bureaucratic anonymity of the system, then they may not be motivated to create or acquire knowledge. Thus the vital mental activity – learning – is barred. Knowledge creates confidence and a feeling of importance when the individual feels’ “I know that I know.” But, not surprisingly, for most people this consciousness amounts to the awareness of “I know that others know that I know”, which necessitates identification.

However, identification can also be a cause of demotivation for learning. A number of talks with some mid-level and first-line managers led the author to conclude that “many people want to be considered more knowledgeable when they are right and less knowledgeable when they are wrong”. So, while identification is the best price for knowledge when it proves to be effective, non-identification is the shield of safety when the knowledge proposed or applied is suspected to be wrong. This emphasizes the need for creating a system that will encourage learning and ensure identification in the case of productive learning and also maintain anonymity in the case of wrong creative initiatives.

The Rusting of Knowledge:

A good number of marketing executives of some companies told the author that they knew something about their job that their companies were not using, nor were they asking for it. What some of them suggested while they said so can be interpreted by saying that knowledge is honored to some extent simply when it is asked for. But because they were not in a position to use what they thought they knew well, their thirst for knowledge and curiosity for learning seemed to be going down. For some people, this feeling of uselessness was observed to have culminated to the level of stress, which we may term “intellectual stress”. Some of them even said that whether or not their knowledge could be used was not their main concern, but what grieved them most was the fact that their level of learning was not considered an asset. This state of stagnation can perhaps be improved by providing for an opportunity to informally express employees’ beliefs and ideas in writing. For example, companies may go for periodical publications of essays by employees, which may be a means of upward communication and suggestions.

Knowledge Farming vs. Knowledge Purchase:

During the course of study it was discovered that the concept of “sense of belonging” is closely interlinked to direct involvement in system building. Unless an employee stays with the company from the very beginning, the knowledge of the system and procedures is ‘imposed’ on them, which they learn through a period of on-the-job training. But those employees that directly participated in the system building were observed to have a more intense sense of belonging than those who were included in it later on. This observation has led the author to conclude that, as far as the knowledge of systems and procedures is concerned, at least part of it should be developed through the active involvement of employees so that they can learn about and also belong to the systems rather than taught to them through the process of training. The OD or Reengineering approach to management may ensure such active involvement. Learning through the process of involvement enhances creativity and enthusiasm and so needs to be made part of managerial activities.

In a variety of activities related to policymaking, the output of intellectual labor is seen to be in conformity to the ideas and opinions of many employees who did not take part in those activities. Although such coincidence of ideas could be expected to satisfy those employees whose ideas and opinions matched with the policies, they however created in employees’ minds a feeling of dissatisfaction. In such cases the reactions are threefold: “What’s new in it? This is all I knew,” or “That’s what I had in my mind, but I wasn’t allowed to take part in it,” or even “They must have used my ideas without giving me a credit.” The result is predictable: the death of creativity and the ebbing of enthusiasm for learning. This situation can be tackled by having employees suggest their ideas in writing and after publishing the policies in written forms, giving credit to those whose ideas were chosen ___ partly or wholly.

Lack of Value Addition:

Of the respondents contacted, those who received formal training sponsored by their organizations were observed to be more confident and enthusiastic for learning than those who did not. From this information we can infer that the more the cost of acquiring knowledge, the more valuable the learner considers it to be. Without such special investment a lot of tacit knowledge may be kept far away from application. Formal training enhances self-confidence and efficiency, which increase the thirst for more knowledge.

Lack of Competition:

Competition with rivals is often based on quantity and profitability. But competition inside the organization becomes most meaningful when it is based on quality, norm, and excellence. This holds true especially where the different departments have different jobs to do, thus the jobs being unable to be compared in terms of quantity or profitability. But in situations or cases where different branches do the same jobs in different places, quantity and profitability should also be the standards of comparison of their performance. But though it may sound paradoxical, it is the fact that learning is enhanced when the quality of performance is accepted as the goal, and not the quantity. This is because when quality is the target the focus of performance goes on intelligence, creativity, flexibility, conformity to requirement, and control ¾ the essential elements of excellence.

The absence of the feeling of risk:

Managing involves evading uncertainty. The possible impact of uncertainty on investment is called risk. Knowledge is the logical representation of the ‘pattern’ of uncertainty as discovered through the methods of prediction. Therefore, when the picture or pattern of uncertainty is discovered, it becomes certain to the extent that the picture or pattern represents. The logical description of such certainty or predictability of phenomena is called knowledge. Thus while management involves avoiding uncertainty, knowledge is the means by which the manager does so, since knowledge means the measure of certainty, whether a hundred percent or not. This is why Bertrand Russell described knowledge as “a matter of degree”.

What it all implies is that unless an employee is aware of the nature of the overall uncertainty of the business his or her organization is in, his or her knowledge is not much likely to develop effectively. The findings of the study corroborate this claim. It was observed that most respondents who were bankers knew very little about the overall nature of their business while all respondents who were marketing executives of non-business and non-financial organizations knew more or less about the nature of their business and the objectives of their organizations. This knowledge has made their job promisingly challenging to them. It must be considered that while a banker almost always calculates the risk related to his or her business, he or she seldom gets involved in it; rather, the calculations simply include risk in a mechanical way. He or she seldom keeps in mind the macroeconomic variables that account for the risk. The marketing executive, on the other hand, considers every element of risk in relation to the organization’s objectives and so a holistic knowledge develops in him or her day by day. The point, in a word, is that the more an employee’s awareness of the link between the risk elements of the business and the contribution of their role to the achievement of the objectives, the more possibility of their learning and  knowledge creation.

The Control-Sensitivity of Knowledge:

Creativity, initiative, and learning depend basically on the extent of freedom of choice. Freedom allows the making of trial and trial may have two consequences: error or success. The conscious management of errors and the prudent interpretation of success – both result in knowledge. Even if an employee is taught to do something successfully, they cannot avoid making mistakes while actually doing it, because this is the only way that humans learn and internalize something. But the nature of control of performance may leave a knowing-doing gap or what we may otherwise call an assimilation gap. For example, what element of an activity is controlled determines how employees will learn and what will be their attitude to learning.

The focus of control may be error, quality, initiative, cost, time, wastage, deviation, freedom, etc. Which of these elements are focused in an organization can be discovered by analyzing the methods of control used there, which may be (1) simply indicating the error, (2) providing training, (3) helping, (4) limiting the flow of resources, (5) providing positive reward for good performance, (6) providing negative rewards for bad performance after a tolerance limit, etc. While most companies use all these methods at different stages of the team’s development, some focus more on specific elements than on others. On the other hand, complete absence of control will create no satisfactory performance, and if it ever will, the performance will not be goal-directed. Therefore, what method of control is preferred affects the quality of and the enthusiasm for learning. Only those who have a thirst for knowledge bear the brunt of carefully using the knowledge that they already have.

Beyond-Value Perception:

It is a proven fact that if employees’ performance is not evaluated in view of definite objectives, there is no motivation or efficiency in their learning. But it is also true that too much emphasis on this philosophy can create a suppressed atmosphere of demotivation that most of the time tends to remain as an undercurrent of reality that gets expressed not in observable learning-related variables but in other stress-related ones. It was discovered that every employee feels that they know something that they could not put into practice but still they would rather that it was valued in some way. Many respondents, for example, said that if their company just somehow acknowledged that even what the employees could not apply in their functional areas or express in specific terms was valuable, they would feel important. This, however, requires that a corporate culture be established which would consider each employee to be an unfathomable potential or asset. For example, as some respondents indicated, an assertion like “Our employees have some ideas which are too profound to be put into practice in specific areas just now” by the organization may boost up the employees’ enthusiasm for learning.


Employees must be paid not just because they are working but because they are thinking. Certainly the nature of payment will differ in these two cases, but the issue of the reward should not be ignored. A person is valuable only as long as they think they are valuable. And it goes without saying that the most effective way to make someone feel valuable is to value their inner capabilities, not just the skill they apply in actions. In the long run only the learning organization will survive.

(Published [with author's permission] from the Observer magazine, Bangladesh Observer on : 23July, 2004)


Continued ...



Author of:

Secret Knowledge of the Qur'an