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IDIOTS' GAZZETTE

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Dancing the Dilemmas: the
‘Mythological’ Enabling of Collective
Action1
Emil André Røyrvik and Egil Wulff 2




Introduction
Sharing experiences and insights is one of the perpetual and critical
themes in organizational work life. This article takes an exploratory ride
into some of the challenges organizations face with respect to ambigu-
ities, paradoxes and dilemmas – fundamental hurdles and springboards
for understanding knowledge processes. We propose the metaphor of
‘organizational musicality’ for grasping the way individuals and groups
in the organization improvise and tackle the paradoxical and ‘messy’
realities they face. This musicality, or sensitivity, conveys itself by the
way people ‘tune in to’ and co-create the organizational narratives,
myths and rituals that make up some of the central background and
premises for the activities going on. The organization’s ways of ‘mytho-
logical musicality’, we argue, have major impacts on the possibilities for
handling ambiguities and dilemmas constructively, and thus on the
climate and opportunity structures for knowledge sharing.
   Knowledge has emerged as a central and vital conception in organiza-
tions since the cognitive revolution in the 1950s. As von Krogh (2003)
writes, it ‘bridges the chasm between cognition and action . . . and inte-
grates the individual and the collective levels of analysis . . . ’ Knowledge
is conceptualized in a number of different ways, and here we adopt
a definition from Barth (1994), that knowledge comprises the interfaces
between worlds of meaning and the ‘outer world’, thus emphasizing
the bridging of the above-mentioned dichotomies. As von Krogh (2003)
continues, to progress fruitfully with research in the domain of

                                    115
116 The ‘Mythological’ Enabling of Collective Action

knowledge management, we need to ‘pay more attention to . . . why and
under what conditions people in organizations share knowledge’.
It is in the continuation of these lines of thought we hope to make a
contribution.
   Through a concrete company case study we will explore how living
narratives in the form of myths (and rituals) comprise possibilities for
building employees’ repertoire for constructively and creatively handling
the inevitable dilemmas present – not the least in so-called knowledge-
intensive companies. We believe myths and rituals already do play such
a role, but that organizations may learn to use them more actively and
positively. The hypothesis is that constructive and collective handling
of inevitable dilemmas may lead to organizational development and
renewal, through enabling of cultural integration and thus knowledge
sharing.


Dilemma and integration
The presence of paradoxes in organizational life, and the insight that
reflection produces paradoxes while action requires that they be removed
was, as Czarniawska (1997) reports, always at the core of organizational
wisdom. She writes, ‘Although much energy is put into solving para-
doxes, they always reemerge’ (1997: 168), and quotes Gumbrecht, ‘it is
impossible to imagine a reality constructed without paradoxes’ (1997: 176).
In line with her argument that ‘ . . . paradoxes not only paralyze action
but also enable it’ (1997: 169), we also position ourselves, and adhere
to the notion that paradoxes may both be a source of friction and
obstruction as well as assist in organizational change and renewal. Like-
wise, the narrative and mythological approach advocated here may be
legitimized by Bruner’s (1990) notion that paradox destroys the rational
decision model, and that narrative can accommodate paradox. The latter
is at home in the narrative mode of thought, while an enemy of the
paradigmatic (argumentative) one. Because of the more or less ‘instinctive
urge’ to try to dissolve paradoxes in the organizational rational mode of
decision making and action, we prefer to use the concept of ‘dilemma’
in this chapter. The term ‘paradox’ gives too much way to associations
in a logico-scientific, rationalistic mode of understanding that we want
to free ourselves from.3
   The taken-for-granted values and frames of reference in mainstream
organization theory are still more than knee-deep in the Enlightenment,
modernistic modes of understanding (such as, the rational and the
irrational) and have been moderately able and interested to look at the
                                          Emil André Røyrvik and Egil Wulff 117

non-scientific, non-rational, mythic sides of organizations. Of course,
there are studies based on symbolic approaches (Pondy, Frost and
Morgan, 1983; Morgan, 1986), but most of these perspectives seem
restrained by the lenses of the modernist ‘mapping of the world’, repre-
sentational focus on observable and measurable exteriors with specific
location as, for example, behaviours, institutions and techno-economic
forms, to the neglect of interiors that are difficult to measure and with
no specific location, as meaning, emotion, and values (Wilber, 1996).
A second aim here is to try to show the necessity, fruitfulness and crea-
tive energy that can be expunged from an organizational epistemology
that sees the exteriors and interiors, the rational/irrational and the non-
rational/mythic sides as integrative and intersected forms of living
knowing – and that this integratedness is immensely valuable for the
practical handling of deep dilemmas in knowledge organizations.
   Myths are, of course, defined in numerous ways, and our definition is
inspired from social anthropology, the discipline that brought the myths
into people’s contemporary everyday lives. Also supported by Barthes’
(1975) notion that anything can become myth because the universe is
infinitely suggestive, they are here understood as a set of more or less
oppositional narratives that are held to be true by those who create and
maintain them.
   First, we look at the setting of the study, the methods and processes
of the Scandiaconsult project, faced with the challenge of accelerating
cultural integration for improving knowledge enabling and sharing
after mergers and acquisitions. Secondly, we look more in-depth on the
constructs of myths in particular, but also rituals, before entering the
two case examples. The two major myths we look at in the cases are
respectively illustrated by the sayings: 1) ‘Heart surgery – the cheaper
the better?’ (the myth of project initiation); and 2) ‘Scandiaconsult’s
flying engineers’ (the myth of the ideal organizational form). The first
myth focuses on two Scandiaconsult project cases and illustrates the
contrasting opinions among employees on what is important in project
initiations. The latter myth illustrates how different communities in the
company do different types of projects, roughly speaking national and
most often mono-disciplinary projects versus local and often cross-
disciplinary projects. Thus, the myth conveys and sharpens the way
different project activity systems give rise to dissimilar perspectives
when it comes to organizing and prioritizing collaborative work. Against
this background, we conclude and discuss the relevance of a ‘mytho-
logical approach’ for both: 1) building integrated frames of reference and
repertoires for creative and constructive handling of dilemmas; and
118 The ‘Mythological’ Enabling of Collective Action

2) enabling cultural integration through broadening opportunity
structures – which facilitate knowledge enabling and sharing – and thus
the value of the communal resource (von Krogh, 2003) also in more
adverse and distributed organizational environments.


The setting: cultural integration after M & A
The research data for this study has been produced through a project
carried out by SINTEF Industrial Management, Department of Knowledge
and Strategy, in collaboration with the Scandinavian engineering
consultant company Scandiaconsult, during 2000 and 2001. Scandia-
consult was in a heavy growth period in Norway, after mergers and
acquisitions of a number of Norwegian firms for the purpose of delivering
complete solutions to large engineering projects, thus gaining increas-
ingly higher shares of the total project marked.4 The challenges of
creating and realizing practical synergies after mergers and acquisitions
are familiar from the literature (von Krogh, Sinatra and Singh, 1994;
Rumyantseva, Gurgul and Enkel, 2002). Since 1997 corporations have
globally spent $5 trillion on mergers and acquisitions, yet in 83 per cent
of 700 large mergers the stock price of the combined organization did
not rise above those of the single entities.5
   In the discussion of barriers to knowledge exchange in the literature,
several issues have been in focus: the difference in cultures (information
is hidden); leadership behaviour (the role of knowledge management is
not stressed); lack of responsibilities (for knowledge repositories); lack
of measurements (of reviews and numbers); and lack of structuring (lack
of clear definitions). Different barriers are significant on the individual
level, for example, limited accommodation and threat to self-image,
and at the organizational level, for example, legitimate language, organ-
izational stories, procedures and company paradigms (visions, mission
statements, core values) (von Krogh, Ichijo and Nonaka, 2000). Different
facilitating conditions for knowledge sharing after mergers and acquisi-
tions have also been discussed: appropriate atmosphere; the nature of
the knowledge (tacit versus explicit); time; size of the firm; frequency of
communication (between individuals, in the social community, in
direct work processes); and other modes of interaction (technical meet-
ings, extended visits, joint training programmes) (Rumyantseva, Gurgul
and Enkel, 2002).
   Against this background, our project with Scandiaconsult focused on
methods, concepts and approaches for accelerated cultural integration,
after and during the new company mergers and acquisitions. The
                                              Emil André Røyrvik and Egil Wulff 119

underlying premise was that accelerated (faster than the natural
cadence of time would have achieved ‘left to its own’ evolution) cultural
integration would enable conditions for improving and lowering the
costs of knowledge sharing. A guiding principle in the project was
that culture cannot be dictated through directives and decisions, but
through communal practices of everyday work. The basic methods of the
project were twofold. First, to facilitate process meetings where top
management and local project workers met in all of Scandiaconsult’s
regional offices in Norway. These were designed ‘ritualized arenas’ with
a process leader from SINTEF. The second main method was through inter-
views and other documentation to closely follow two specific projects
that Scandiaconsult were accomplishing for customers at the time, and
on the basis of them make two so-called ‘Learning Histories’6 (see
Chapter 10, Røyrvik and Bygdås; Hatling, 2001; Roth and Kleiner, 1999).
The two projects provided the main contents and points of departure
in the stories. The interviews, process meetings and the two Learning
Histories fertilized each other reciprocally (see Fig. 7.1).
   We attended or facilitated in total around fifteen meetings, including
management meetings, process meetings with the knowledge activist
forum, and public meetings. Thirty interviews with top management,
middle management, project leaders and project members were made.
Over half (259 of about 500) of the members of the Norwegian part of
Scandiaconsult was directly involved in the study (see Table 7.1 below).
   Both in the real-life gatherings and in the Learning Histories we
focused on what we called the ‘fruitful dilemmas’ that Scandiaconsult
employees are facing in daily work activities. Through the ‘dilemma


             Interviews




             Process
             meetings



                                                Learning Histories

                                                                TIME

Figure 7.1    The Scandiaconsult project design and main activities
Table 7.1   Summary of the study participants and methods, Scandiaconsult (January 2000–December 2001)                                   120

                 Sites                              Employees                                         Methods

Unit of           Area studied         Estimated   Number        Interviewed   Participant   Observation   On-site        Off-site
Scandiaconsult                         number      interviewed                 observation                 conversation   conversation
                                       in area     or observed

Trondheim         Office management         8             4      yes           yes           yes           yes            yes
                  Specific project         15             7      yes           no            no            yes            yes
                    group 1
                  Knowledge activist       17            17      no            yes           yes           yes            yes
                    process forum
                  Public meeting         101             50      no            no            yes           yes            no
Subtotal                                 141             78
Oslo              Office                    9             4      yes           yes           yes           yes            no
                    management
                  Specific project         12             4      yes           no            no            yes            yes
                    group 2
                  Knowledge activist       16            16      no            yes           yes           yes            yes
                    process forum
                  Public meeting         103             40      no            no            yes           yes            no
Subtotal                                 140             64
Drammen           Office management         5             4      yes           no            no            yes            no
                  Specific project         12             4      yes           no            no            yes            yes
                    group 2
                  Knowledge                18            18      no            yes           yes           yes            yes
                    activist process
                    forum
                  Public meeting                35               5         yes            no             no              yes             yes
Subtotal                                        70              31
Tønsberg          SCC Management                34              34         no             yes            yes             yes             no
                    group meeting
                  Public meeting                25              16         no             yes            yes             yes             no
Subtotal                                        31              50
Bergen            Project managers              10               4         yes            no             no              yes             no
                  Public meeting                62              17         no             yes            yes             yes             no
Subtotal                                        72              21
Lillehammer       Public meeting                17              15         no             yes            yes             yes             no
Subtotal                                        17              15
Total                                         471              259

* This table includes all the units studies; it does not include all the 2,100 Scandiaconsult employees worldwide, but most of the units in Norway are
covered. The total number of employees in Norway today is 550, but because of the rapid growth of the corporation the numbers in the table reflect the
number of employees at the time each area was studied according to company records and our own. ‘Specific project group 1 and 2’ refers to the project
cases used for the two Learning Histories, while ‘Knowledge activist process forum’ refers to the process meetings.
                                                                                                                                                         121
122 The ‘Mythological’ Enabling of Collective Action

doorway’ the process meeting provided arenas for people to meet, get to
know each other and for displaying different perspectives on significant
phenomena, and for discussing difficult themes. The Learning Histories,
with their intimate project practice focus, provided a possibility to lay
down traces and ‘sedimentations’ in the company from the discussions,
perspectives and practices that the process meetings and the two project
cases spurred. Through this work two very central ‘sets of oppositional
stories’ displaying core dilemmas of the company came up. In line with
the definition of myths above, we viewed these two ‘sets of oppositional
stories’ as two of the most important company myths.
   Both the building of action repertoires for handling dilemmas, and
accelerating cultural integration hinge heavily on the notions of the
‘communal resource’ (von Krogh, 2003), the informal and the shadow
organization (Stacey, 1993). A number of characteristics that we will
not dwell with here make communities interesting for the problem of
cultural integration and knowledge sharing. Derived from a solid tradition
in the social sciences the role of communities has, for the last decade or
so, received much attention in organization studies, through concepts
like ‘communities of practice’ (Lave, 1988; Brown and Duguid, 1991;
Wenger, 1998) and ‘micro-communities for knowledge sharing and
creation’ (von Krogh, Ichijo and Nonaka, 2000). Concerning knowledge
sharing in the community von Krogh, Ichijo and Nonaka (2000) discern
at least three central factors: opportunity structures, care and authenticity.
In this chapter we are concerned only with the opportunity structures,
which rely on both systems of cues7 about what other affiliates are capable
of, and of behavioural rituals such as weekly debriefing, departmental
meetings, regular project meetings, discussion platforms and lunch
gatherings. We will not discuss these types of rituals at length, but focus
on the designed ritual arenas of the project period.
   Faced with the considerable challenge of accelerating cultural integra-
tion after mergers and acquisitions, two integrated methods are presented,
both targeted at the broadening of opportunity structures, which we see
as a fruitful and manageable approach: 1) the establishment of ritualized
arenas for dialogic inquiry (the real-life process meeting gatherings);
and 2) the co-generative making and use of ‘mythological boundary
objects’ for process mediation (the Learning Histories). The ritualized
arenas of the process meetings were gatherings were top management
and local employees could exchange experiences and insights on critical
themes, focusing on ‘fruitful dilemmas’ and facilitated by a process
leader from SINTEF, acting as kind of ‘organizational shaman’. The
analogy has some interesting features. The shaman is the central
                                           Emil André Røyrvik and Egil Wulff 123

religious leader in, for example, the Inuit society. He is expected to be
a jesting, quick-witted and a somewhat unpredictable person. He pos-
sesses intuition and special capabilities and skills (Eriksen, 1993). Like
the process leader in our case, who knew the company very well but
was not an insider in the sense of being a leader or employee within the
organization, all shamans have in common that they stand both inside
and outside the society. This makes them powerful. Without elaborating
on the vital, and in organization theory to our knowledge virtually
unexplored potential embedded in the ‘shamanistic’ characteristics of
the process leader role, we focus below on the integratedness of the two
methods, the ritualized arenas and the mythological boundary objects,
for facilitating and enabling cultural integration in such a dispersed
organization.


Case lines
Myths and rituals are of primary interest in social and cultural anthro-
pology. Let us just briefly, before we go more deeply into the case material,
have a look at the main insights from these traditions. First of all, we
have to remove the moral judgement we implicitly or explicitly assign
to the concept of ‘myth’ as something untrue. It was Malinowski (1922)
who first put myths into a wider context: they are not false stories, but
living reality. He argued that the myths functions as charters for the
institutions in the society concerned. Their main function was not their
display of the past, but their treatment of the present, for their convey-
ance of what is basic and right for the society, for people’s relationships
to themselves, each other and ‘the rest of the world’. That is not to say
that myths are ‘machinery for consensus production’. Anthropologists
have argued that myths also express disagreements and can contain
oppositions and paradoxes (Leach, 1964). Leach (1982) defines myths
as a set of oppositional stories all regarded as true by the ones who
create, re-create and sustain them. From this we have derived our working
definition of organizational myths as ‘sets of oppositional stories’
displaying organizational dilemmas. Levi-Strauss (1978) has developed
his analysis of the deep structures of myths, which conveys how the
myths establish the basic cognitive premises of cultural forms, people’s
classification schemas of reality. Thus, myths are first and foremost
‘motors of meaning production’ and provide the meaningful ‘ground-
pillars’ in cultural life forms.
   In line with these traditions it is also possible to regard organizational
myths. What is it that shapes and legitimates activities in organizations?
124 The ‘Mythological’ Enabling of Collective Action

Some would say it is strategy plans, manuals, business plans, reporting
routines, actions plans, management accounting systems and the like.
It is not difficult to disagree and say that such texts and figures often
remain dry prose, far from lifting the motivations and spirits of knowledge
workers out of the trap of everyday routine (Barry and Elmes, 1997),
failing to fill them with meaning and motivation in the way myths can.
If myths may be seen as a window into the foundational principles of
a society (Barth, 1994), as we shall see, they may as well be able to say
something significant about the premises underlying organizational
activities, and more specifically, on the conditions of the opportunity
structures for knowledge sharing. Let us look at two central myths in
Scandiaconsult, myths that should have relevance far beyond this
specific firm.

Heart surgery – the cheaper the better? The myth of ‘project
initiation’
One of the most important activities in project-based companies like
Scandiaconsult is, without question, the process of acquiring and initi-
ating new projects. These companies live from project acquisitions,
accomplishment and satisfactory deliverances, and stories of project
creations naturally hold a central place in the storytelling culture. The
Learning Histories from Scandiaconsult focused to a large extent on what
might be labelled the ‘myth of project initiation’.8 Basically the dilemma
of project initiation as disclosed in the Learning Histories stretches out
an axis from an understanding of acquisitions as ‘pure invitations for
tenders’ on the one side, to an understanding of acquiring projects
through a history of reputation and trust with ‘good customers’ and
other relationships. We have called this myth (set of oppositional
stories displaying dilemmas) ‘Heart surgery – the cheaper the better?’
   On the importance of relationships, network and trust one of the
employees says: ‘The project is based on my old network . . . so it was my
friendly relationship with him that was the source for the realization of
this project.’ The department manager, who was also in charge of one
of the projects, said about Scandiaconsult’s contact person (the project
developer hired by the assignment owner who decides whom will get
the project): ‘he didn’t want to invite for tenders, because then it will
lower the prices and we will get smaller budgets.’ The project developer
himself commented:

   I think it is wrong to choose consultants based on price per hour. It is
   such an important choice that you have to be certain that it will
                                           Emil André Røyrvik and Egil Wulff 125

   work out well. And that has a lot to do with trusting people, which
   you build up through a history of collaboration . . . With invitations
   for tenders, you risk a lot.

The leader of the department gave name to the myth of project initiation:

   Also professional assignment owners live in a system were tenders
   are at the core. They can’t get out of it. They believe that tenders can
   be used for everything. With the tenders approach only, they are
   doomed to bad solutions. If I want to have a heart surgery, I don’t
   invite for tenders!

He continues on the importance of long-term relationships:

   The whole of our existence is based on trust. People who speak
   otherwise don’t understand it. And trust is based on personal ties
   and on rumours. Much of the growth in the firm is based on personal
   networks. Of course, we must have employees that are trusted with
   old and potentially new customers.

The project leader says it like this: ‘It takes ten good projects to turn the
impression after a bad one. The rumours spread. It’s bad to get your
name tied to a scandalous project.’ And the person who initiated the
project through his personal network insists: ‘The most important of all
is network. If my colleagues down the hall here destroy my network,
they are in trouble! It has taken years to create a network of trusted
relationships . . . ’
   These quotations convey mostly one side of the myth of project
initiation, the side where trust, long-term relationships and personal
networks dominate. Let us briefly look at the other side of the myth,
the side were acquisitions are seen as mostly done through invitations
for tenders.
   This Learning History focused on the complexity and diversity in
skills needed to complete a cross-disciplinary bid for tender – specifically
the Scandiaconsult internal process of making a bid for the planning of
the construction of a highway. A project leader states: ‘It is very difficult
in these multi-disciplinary tenders, but we need to be on top when it
comes to tender deliveries. All the big projects are offered through
tenders, and will be even more in the future.’ The story shows how
difficult it was to estimate the ‘correct’ cost budget in the tender. The
one responsible for the offer says, ‘What they wanted was an offer for
126 The ‘Mythological’ Enabling of Collective Action

a pre-project, and giving cost estimates on pre-projects is pretty trouble-
some because everything is so open. There are no defined tasks but they
want a fixed prize nonetheless.’ A project member says, ‘It is guessing
all the time, how much we will spend on the different tasks.’ The
project leader continues, ‘I cannot understand how the assignment
owner can choose the correct bid.’ Concerning the issue of ‘squeezing’
the costs lower and lower, to be able to compete for the project, one of
the employees notes,

   You can’t just squeeze and squeeze endlessly, because we are supposed
   to make a living of these projects. Sometimes, if we don’t get the job
   at the cost we have squeezed and finally estimated, we just have to
   let the project drift away, because we will loose too much money if
   we take the job at such a budget.

So, seen as a whole of more or less oppositional stories, the myth of
project initiation, ‘Heart surgery – the cheaper the better?’ raises the
questions of the different practices and perspectives on project acquisi-
tions, from the two oppositions of understanding initiations through
‘pure relationships’ and through ‘pure tenders’. It questions the different
practices through a comparison with heart surgery. Would you invite
for tenders when having a heart surgery, and choose the cheapest offer?
Perhaps some tasks and projects in consultant engineering also need to
be treated more carefully than simply applying the principle of ‘the
cheaper the better’? They display some of the important, difficult and
sometimes fruitful dilemmas and ambiguities in the practical lifeworld
of project initiations. Project initiation is displayed at the same time, but
in different contexts, as being both about tenders and everything that
implies concerning formalities, bureaucracy, internal bargaining and
squeezing of prizes, and intuitions of ‘what it takes’ of pushing the price
low enough to get the project; and at the same time it is all about net-
works and trust and long-term relationships with customers and others.
The challenge lies in determining in the daily realization of new
projects, in new and unique situations, which approach to follow for
a proper match between the new context of opportunity – (trying) to
get a project – and the concrete tasks of initiating the project, all some-
where on the axis of ‘relations–tenders’. As an employee in Scandiacon-
sult you are constantly facing such living dilemmas, to which there are
no final solutions, but which you must deal with, make judgements
and take actions on behalf of. They are the ‘stuff’ that makes up the
ambiguous premise behind project initiation work.
                                          Emil André Røyrvik and Egil Wulff 127

   Myths offer some help in making these qualitative assessments.
Through conveying experiences from the whole axis the myth provides
the people who participate in the communicative interaction with
ballast with which to meet new and unique situations better prepared,
and without the need to live through all the primary experiences them-
selves. This background may provide a repertoire that makes it possible
to improvise in new situations displaying dilemma and ambiguity of
some sort. Similarly, the conveyance of the myth of project initiation
may help in broadening the opportunity structures for knowledge sharing
on the vital activity of acquiring and initiating projects. Rather than
trying to pin down and pre-define black and white answers, myths help
you move into position to handle the problem at hand, more like pro-
viding an appropriate background and foundation knowledge. In some
ways it is analogous to how a particular piece of music fits a specific
dance: the music doesn’t prescribe you to dance – you don’t have to dance
at all, certainly not a specific dance – but if you cannot dance any dances
you are in trouble if the situation requires dancing. To handle the situ-
ation you must improvise; the music will guide you, if you tune in. And
the music may also contain multiple messages. You must interpret, and
move accordingly. It is the same with myths. Maybe employees, as indi-
viduals and collectives, may rehearse their ‘organizational musicality’
and learn how to better ‘dance the dilemmas’?
   A nice ‘side-effect’ is that myths convey both the important aspects of
the values and premises that actors in the organization adhere to in
project work, and it thus provides a snapshot of what makes up the
cultural formations of the company. These insights are discussed in the
ritualized settings in the company, for instance in the designed project
process meetings facilitated by the SINTEF process leader ‘shaman’. The
Learning Histories may thus be seen as a formalized effort for displaying
different perspectives and dilemmas on important issues – and are thus
an active ‘construction’ of mythological knowledge based on real mytho-
logical material. Rituals are often considered as the active aspect of
myths, and can be further specified as the proper context for the discus-
sion, display and conveyance of complex knowledge packed in the
form of ‘sets of oppositional stories’, that is myths. They can jointly be
seen as ‘knowledge springboards’ that help us get into position and
come to terms with the really difficult knowledge forms, the implicit,
tacit and relational forms of knowledge, that, just as with the need to
take continuous runs on the springboard to ‘stay’ in the air, they need
to be regenerated and re-created in the daily communicative interaction
processes of the company. Myths and rituals are thus seen as two sides
128 The ‘Mythological’ Enabling of Collective Action

of the same coin, or as Siamese twins making up some of the important
premises of organizational cultural life. These myths and ritualized
practices should have relevance to all kinds of project-based companies.
  Let us now look at the other important myth we focused on in
Scandiaconsult.

Scandiaconsult’s Flying Engineers: the myth of ‘the ideal
organizational form’
Recurring reorganizations are familiar to every employee in a company
over a certain size. These reorganization efforts are, of course, intended
to improve performance, and some of them are targeted at solving
collective action problems through agency. In Scandiaconsult the main
discussions of organizational form evolved around geographical versus
disciplinary organization. That is, if administrative systems and formal
departmental structures were to follow geographic locations or disciplines.
As von Krogh (2003) shows, the agency solutions to the challenge of
knowledge sharing are in general done in two ways. First, through
increasing the number of points of contacts between employees, for
example, through problem solving groups, task forces, knowledge and
technology transfer units, a multi-layered organization structure (for
example, a business system layer, a project layer and knowledge base
layer), or a matrix structure where people share knowledge both through
a regional orientation and a functional (product/technology) or industry
focus. Second, whatever structure of the organizational model, know-
ledge sharing is ensured by agency through a system for human resource
management including incentive systems like alternative career paths.
The agency approach to knowledge sharing has, however, some serious
limitations. You can never ‘force’ someone to share knowledge, and the
more tacit the knowledge is the more costly, uncertain and time-
consuming is its sharing. ‘If knowledge to be shared is tacit, the role of
intrinsic motivation outweighs the role of extrinsic motivation . . . ’
(von Krogh, 2003). Thus, the focus on the communal resource in know-
ledge sharing, where intrinsic motivation is realized through the
workers’ satisfaction by working together with others in order to solve
complex tasks.
   Given the challenges of knowledge sharing after mergers and acquisi-
tions in a dispersed environment comprising several large and small
former companies, ‘inhabited’ by engineering experts, a lot of the
dilemmas discussed evolved around aspects of ‘the ideal organizational
structure’ of the company, and practical consequences of the form
chosen. The leader of one of the divisions in Scandiaconsult has on
                                          Emil André Røyrvik and Egil Wulff 129

several occasions when discussing priorities, strategies or challenges
said that ‘we cannot make the flying of engineers a business idea!’ This
contention has received mixed applause. Some groups and individuals
consent to it, while others express their absolute disagreement. The reason
for this is that the saying exaggerates and ‘pins down’ the ‘dilemma
axis’ of the myth of ‘the ideal organizational form’, and at the same
time broaches several of the underlying dilemmas and challenges that
the myth has unfolded.
   One of the issues concerning the problem of collective action is the
challenge of choosing between a disciplinary and a geographical main
organizational form. In Scandiaconsult they have chosen a kind of
geographical organization, but at the same time the departments to
some extent follow the disciplines. So it is partly hybrid. The main
discussions – as conveyed in interviews, the process meetings and the
Learning Histories – concern the confusions over the ‘right’ configura-
tion of the main variables in each project; geography, disciplines, market
preferences and trends, type of project (for example, cross-disciplinary
versus disciplinary, national versus local) and different priorities and
interests. More specifically, they convey the different practices and
identifications between members who work in projects for local mar-
kets versus employers with more national responsibilities. The groups
working for the national market feel that the saying ‘we cannot make
the flying of engineers into a business idea!’ is disparaging their work,
and fear that such work will not be given priority and encouragement
from management.
   The point we want to make on the basis of the Scandiaconsult
material, is that no matter what organizational structure you choose you
have to handle a set of different dilemmas, dependent upon your
specific choice. (See Figure 7.2) From the perspective of geographical
organization there are at least three main challenges, touching upon the
problems of collective action and knowledge sharing: 1) the market
orientation is local, raising the question of how enough focus and atten-
tion can be directed towards the mono-disciplinary consulting services
that often have a national or international orientation because of the
market for such services; 2) with few employees from the same discipline
co-located, how do you best sustain quality competence on each of the
disciplinary areas the company is covering? In what ways can the discipli-
nary competence be developed across geographical and organizational
(departmental) boundaries?; and 3) with the business unit tied to local,
(cross-)disciplinary units, where would incentives to acquire large,
national cross-disciplinary projects rise from? Remember, it was the
130 The ‘Mythological’ Enabling of Collective Action

marked trend in this direction that was the trigger for the Scandiaconsult
mergers and acquisitions in the first place.
  With a disciplinary organization there also arise three fundamental
challenges. 1) How can we satisfactorily serve the local market, where
the majority of the projects are acquired, when the customers demand
cross-disciplinary solutions at low prizes? 2) How do you develop trust-
worthy and innovative cross-disciplinary competence when the differ-
ent disciplines are more or less distributed at several geographical
locations and do not have daily contact across disciplinary boundaries?
3) With the business unit tied to disciplinary units that are geograph-
ically dispersed, that is, some disciplines are located here and some
there, from where do the incentives for cross-disciplinary working on
a national basis come from? Graphically, the differences between the
two ‘ideal forms’ can be displayed like this, focusing on downsides (−)
and upsides (+) of the two models.



 Geographical organization
 Disciplinary organization




                  -               National disciplinary consulting         +




                             National, large cross-disciplinary projects



                             Development of disciplinary competence



                        Development of cross-disciplinary competence




                                  Ability to serve the local market



Figure 7.2 Distribution of different ‘dilemmas’ depending on the chosen model
of organization
                                          Emil André Røyrvik and Egil Wulff 131

  These organizational dilemmas are further accentuated by the fact
that Scandiaconsult has a core challenge concerning knowledge sharing
because of its highly educated expert employees. As studies have
shown,

  people’s long-term investments in areas of expertise, for example in
  engineering disciplines, make them reluctant to share knowledge
  with representatives from other areas, and they tend to be very con-
  scious of ‘boundaries’ and diverse interests, which separate their
  work practices from those of other disciplines (von Krogh, 2003).

This twofold challenge of on the one hand the disciplinary versus
geographical organization, and on the other hand, the mono-disciplinary
inclination of engineering experts, was expressed in a metaphorical
vision statement by the Norwegian CEO: ‘Scandiaconsult should be
viewed as a competent mixed choir. In the really good choirs the
sopranos, alts, tenors and basses are located in a mixture of four and
four throughout the whole choir.’
   The knowledge conveyed in the ritualized contexts of the project
process meetings and also in the Learning Histories, although the focus
of the latter was on the myth of project initiation, reveals the myth of
the ideal organizational form, with its interpretative branches and
consequences. After being challenged on the metaphor of ‘not turning
flying of engineers into a business idea’ the leader started to use it in
a more elaborate and sophisticated way: ‘We shall not turn flying of
engineers into a business idea, but if necessary we will fly them to the
moon!’ This last version is better signalling the ambivalence and com-
plexity of the subject matter, and also better tuned to his original inten-
tion with the saying. When explaining it, it became clear that the saying
was dependent on many context variables like size and type of the
project, what resources are available, what activity system is in question,
what part of the business is involved, etc., to decide on the question of
using local engineers or members located throughout Norway. They
didn’t want to fly engineers from town to town if local employees could
do the job at the same quality level, but in areas where their skills are
unique and they have national responsibilities, the customers will pay
the price of the ‘Scandiaconsult flying engineers’.
   These issues were of significant concern for project members in their
daily priorities. For example, it was an issue when staffing a project with
consultants either with a history from national, mono-disciplinary
projects or from the local cross-disciplinary projects. The consultants
132 The ‘Mythological’ Enabling of Collective Action

with the national responsibilities usually can charge a higher hourly fee
for their consulting. When working on the same project this differential
hourly rate could turn into a somewhat troublesome ‘status’ issue. The
local consultants found it strange that the others (with the same years
of experience) could get higher rates, and the ‘national’ consultants
found it strange to participate in projects were they got ‘underpaid’. The
discussions around this myth may thus reveal that one and the same
consultant are at different times working within different activity
systems with different premises for the project logic.
  Again we see the issue of musicality regarding the complex premises
and practices of engineering consultant work. The myth displays that
the consultant’s move in and out of different roles and different logics
of project activity. These movements can be accomplished with different
degrees of sensitivity and creativity. The myth awakens the awareness
to these complexities and dilemmas, and again may guide the employees
towards an ameliorated musicality with respect to understanding
activity system premises and rendering opportunities for constructive
improvisations in the face of the inevitable dilemmas.
  The ritualized arenas and Learning Histories as myths may thus turn
dilemmas from only being liabilities to potential possibilities. Concerning
the paradoxical organizational life Czarniawska (1997: 176) writes:


   the direct experience of paradox is threatening to individuals and
   institutions, but becomes a topic for reflection when the experience
   is indirect as in a stage play or a TV series. May we extend it to a case
   of organized reflection . . . and see that it also opens the possibilities
   for institutional renewal?


We think the cases here exemplify this transition into the realm of
opportunity.
   The myths display the impossibility of a precedent and final solution
to acquisition, staffing and accomplishment of projects, and of any
‘dilemma-free’ organizational form. However, through the rituals and
myths it is possible to exchange knowledge on the premise or cultural
background on which specific projects have to be configured. The myths
both differentiate and mediate the dilemmas, and thus make them
‘really real’ in the sense that they become perceivable and thus possible
subjects for reflection and action. The employees are attaining a better
understanding of the premises for the activities they are themselves
making and being made by.
                                         Emil André Røyrvik and Egil Wulff 133

   A consequence is the possibility for more meaningful and motivated
collective actions and a sense of being ‘on top of’, and more in control
of, the project activities they are involved in. Consequentially it may
open up possibilities to tear down barriers to knowledge sharing, as, for
instance, anxiety about loosing authority or status, the threat to self-
image, and a display, sharing and broadening of the legitimate language
of the company. An opposite outcome is also possible, of course, that
members will distance themselves from such approaches with arguments
such as ‘we are not given any clear answers or procedures’ and ‘such
discussions gives us nothing’. It is, however, our experience that practi-
tioners recognize their complex environments, and welcome dialogic
inquiries that produce arenas, concepts, frameworks and tools for
manoeuvring and enabling.


Conclusions
The main question dealt with in this article has been the potential for
broadening opportunity structures, through myths and rituals, for
improving individual and collective guidance in handling organizational
dilemmas and situations of ambiguity – thus also targeting the question
of enabling knowledge sharing – in distributed organizational communi-
ties. In our cases we have especially focused on ‘mythological means’
for accelerated cultural integration after mergers and acquisitions.
   Concerning the challenges of enabling knowledge, we were here only
concerned with the potential for leveraging knowledge sharing associ-
ated with the opportunity structures (and not care and authenticity).
In von Krogh’s discussion of opportunity structures, he refers to the
structuring of organizational relationships that make out the occasion
and benefit of communal knowledge sharing. This structuring hinges
on many factors such as individual and collective benefits from know-
ledge sharing, the sequence and history of knowledge sharing activity
in the community, the diverse and dispersed interests, knowledge and
experience of affiliates and their search for sharing opportunities, and
bargaining and helping behaviour (von Krogh, 2003). As discussed
above, under different conditions, opportunity structures to sustain
collective action rely on both systems of cues about what other affiliates
are capable of, and of behavioural rituals such as weekly debriefing,
departmental meetings, regular project meetings, discussion platforms
and lunch gatherings.
   Myths function as ‘deep systems of cues’ that have the potential for
building action repertoires to be utilized in situations of ambiguity and
134 The ‘Mythological’ Enabling of Collective Action

dilemma. The myths and rituals should, as noted above, be understood
as ‘Siamese twins’ that only can be properly conceptualized as inti-
mately connected. Thus, we propose that the process meetings of the
Scandiaconsult project can be interpreted as providing ritualized contexts
or settings for the possible broadening of the opportunity structures to
handle dilemmas and better enable knowledge sharing, while the
Learning Histories may be depicted as active ‘mythmaking’ for improve-
ment in the same fields. A question that could be explored further is
whether the broadening of the opportunity structures by these means
may have two main possible side-effects. Could individuals and groups
in the organization also get 1) more focused on important issues and
critical activities in their work practices, or 2) get more defocused with
respect to what is important for them in the job?
   To the challenges of inevitable and in many respects unsolvable
dilemmas and the ‘ambiguity intensiveness’ (Alvesson, 2001) of the
knowledge era organizations, what we may have shown is that by
shedding light on and framing organizational premises (the always recur-
ring ‘inevitable’ living dilemmas) in narrative modes of conveyance, the
company members exchange cultural understandings. This was done
through highlighting the link between the different company commu-
nities and the two myths exposed. The link was different in the two myth
examples. In the first case the link was grounded in the communities
that evolved around two locally anchored Scandiaconsult projects, and
the differentiating trait was their dissimilar focus on what to them
seemed the most important factors in project initiations. In the latter
myth, the link between the communities and the myth was tailored to
the way different communities in practice are doing various types of
projects, where generally speaking the one ‘community’ (dispersed around
Norway) does national and most often mono-disciplinary projects,
while the other does local and often cross-disciplinary projects. The
myth thus focuses on the different perspectives that these dissimilar
project activity systems give rise to when it comes to organizing and
prioritizing collaborative work – and what happens when the same
consultant needs to operate in both systems.
   The discussion of the two main myths was accomplished a little bit
differently. The first was displayed in more empirical detail with
thorough direct quoting, while the latter was more analytical, outlining
dilemma consequences of the chosen organization. The first covers the
small and specific, but important, phenomenon of project initiation.
It opens up the main ‘dilemma axis’ and examines both sides of the
myth in detail, illuminating what it means in practical work settings.
                                            Emil André Røyrvik and Egil Wulff 135

The second myth explores aspects of the huge and well-known discussion
of organizational forms or models. The phenomenon needed no legiti-
mation through detailed empirical quoting, we chose rather to focus on
the different themes and dilemmas that emerge and need to be ‘bal-
anced out’ in concrete project settings, contingent on the specific
chosen model of organization. The first is more micro oriented than the
latter, just like the link between the myth and the Scandiaconsult com-
munities it ‘reflected’. The two myths were of very different character,
the representation of them we thought should convey this. Likewise, it
was an opportunity to show two quite dissimilar ways to work with
‘mythological musicality’.
   We have not discussed the characteristics of ‘situations facing
dilemma’ when it comes to temporality. Intuitively these situations are
different with respect to their ‘stretch in time’, and this difference
should affect the usefulness of the ‘mythological resource’ and how, if
at all, the resource is mobilized in each situation. This needs to be
further explored.
   In sum, we believe we have shown how the myths and ritualized
arenas (that is, the process meetings of the knowledge activist forum)
may accelerate the exchange of knowledge about what others are capable
of, about diverse business activity logics, and illuminate some of the
premises different company practices are built upon. Through the
ritualized company settings and the mythological conveyance and
creation, 9 the communal resource seems to have been made more trans-
parent (which can be interpreted as a broadening of opportunity struc-
tures), and thus been rendered able to play a role in accelerating
cultural integration also between dispersed communities with members
containing high levels of diversity in interests and preferences.
   Some of the ‘agency results’ of the project in the company were actions
taken by management, who have had strong ownership of the processes
throughout the project, of increasing points of contacts between com-
pany members, of explicating principles that earlier were tacit and only
a part of some ‘cultures’ in the company, and through redesigning some
of the ‘lines of communication’ between projects and management.
The most important contribution of the project, however, we believe is
that the constructed ritual arenas and enhanced company myths
provided an appropriate background for the communal resources to
potentially self-organize activities across boundaries (cultural, disciplinary,
formal, geographical, hierarchical) held in shape by the engineering
culture of mono-disciplinary inclinations, and the inevitable dilemmas
that emerge. This was made possible, for example, because management
136 The ‘Mythological’ Enabling of Collective Action

and employees both were ‘given voice to’ and were ‘seen’ outside their
already established communities.
   Thus, the approach may be depicted as at least a partial countering of
the problems of the decreasing value of the communal resource as the
company grows. In the combining of agency actions taken and the
enhancing of an enabling background (focus and ‘construction’ of
company-wide myths and rituals) we see the integrative approach
(the interconnectedness of the rational exteriors and the non-rational
interiors) that is argumented for in this article. An indication that this
worked, at least to some degree, was in a post-summary project meeting
with forty Scandiaconsult consultants, mostly managers, where we
observed a shift in substance in the communications, from being
primarily focused on the different struggles of organizing to concentrating
on future market and collaborative project possibilities. They claimed
this shift also occurred in the daily internal discussions, and that their
involvement in the Kunne research project had a substantial impact on
this transformation. Another indication is that Scandiaconsult, in a
difficult business, has continued to grow and thrive, although the
SINTEF project contribution to that may be anything from marginal to
important (especially considering Scandiaconsult was in a critical
growth phase).
   We see the Siamese twins of myths and rituals as a form of dialogic
inquiry by means of boundary objects. While boundary objects
have been studied in use (Star and Griesemer, 1989), and the ‘creation
and management of boundary objects is a key process in developing and
maintaining coherence across intersecting communites’ (Bowker and
Star, 1999: 297), Star, who coined the term, is very careful to emphasize
that ‘boundary objects arise over time from durable cooperation among
communities of practice’ (Bowker and Star, 1999). The Learning
Histories, due to their intentional design and history of immediate applica-
tion, violate such a strict understanding of boundary objects. While the
strong definition may reject the deliberate construction, including
outsiders, of usable and functional boundary objects as impossible – just
like many anthropologists would reject the whole project of accelerating
cultural integration as futile – the Scandiaconsult project was, with
integrated methods and focus on co-generative learning processes,
exactly such an attempt. We need to explore further the dynamics and
potential of our approach in light of framing it as ‘quasi-boundary
objects’, or rather ‘mythological boundary objects’.
   The myths and rituals may, on the background given in this article,
be seen as having practical potential for broadening the opportunity
                                               Emil André Røyrvik and Egil Wulff 137

structures for dispersed work and cultural integration of the newly
acquired companies. This is, of course, a never-ending process that needs
to be constantly re-created through daily use. We contend therefore
that the agency approaches to knowledge sharing suffer from the
modernist, rationalist bias of believing that you can properly manage all
types of knowledge and therefore more or less ‘enforce’ knowledge
sharing. This is, in our view, valid only as far as it goes. While agency
approaches no doubt are valuable for the sharing of exterior forms of
knowledge (such as rules, behaviour, facts, numbers), to get at the
problem of sharing interior forms (such as meaning, understanding,
tacit relational forms, resonance, active empathy) additional and comple-
mentary approaches are needed. The focus on the broadening of the
opportunity structures through myths and rituals is targeted at this
integration. It emphasizes the continuous re-realization and integration
between the company’s ‘what does it do?’ (exteriors) and the ‘what does
it mean?’ (interiors), in an attempt to awaken, maintain and renew
organizational processes of active and living ‘coming to knowing’.


Notes
1. For a differently angled variant of this chapter, utilizing the same empirical
   material, but focusing more on the self-organizing potential of the communal
   resource with respect to knowledge sharing, also in distributed organizational
   settings with the ‘leveraging’ aid of myth and ritual, see Røyrvik and Wulff
   (2002).
2. We are grateful for comments from Mattheus Urwyler, University of St Gallen,
   and Kjersti Bjørkeng, SINTEF Industrial Management.
3. Dilemma is here used as a ‘folk notion’, understood usually as an undesirable
   or unpleasant choice or a problem involving a difficult decision. It can also
   denote a difficult or persistent problem. As Merriam Webster (http://www.
   m_w.com/cgibin/dictionary) suggests, the use of such adjectives as terrible,
   painful and irreconcilable suggests that dilemma is losing some of its unpleasant
   force.
4. At the time of the project, Scandiaconsult increased its number of employees
   from about 350 to 450 in Norway, and about 2,000 in total in Norway, Finland
   and Sweden. By June 2003, Scandiaconsult merged with Rambøll, and is now
   part of the Rambøll group covering domestic markets in Denmark, Norway,
   Sweden and Finland; today there are about 550 employees in Norway and
   more than 4,200 employees at seventy offices in the Nordic region.
5. Mergerstat, 2001.
6. Learning Histories can briefly be defined as a formalized approach for capturing
   and sharing learning experiences within a distributed network of organizational
   actors, presented as multivoiced stories giving complementary and more or
   less oppositional perspectives on significant events and phenomena in the
   organization’s work life. See also chapter ten of this book.
138 The ‘Mythological’ Enabling of Collective Action

7. Cues as both stimulus to perception and hints on how to behave in certain
   circumstances, thus enabling both in terms of searching for knowledge and
   bargaining about when sharing knowledge is suitable (von Krogh, 2003).
8. Of the two main myths covered in this article, although there were major
   reciprocal exchanges as outlined in Figure 7.1, the main material for the first
   myth, the myth of project initiation came through interviews and the two
   Learning Histories developed in the project, while the main material for the
   second myth, the myth of the ideal organizational form, came through inter-
   views and the work with the process meetings.
9. In ways that cut across both geographical, disciplinary and business area
   boundaries.


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