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Copyright

Title: Common Knowledge
Author: Nancy M. Dixon
Publisher: Harvard Business School Press
Copyright: 2000
ISBN: 0-87584-904-0
Pages: 188
Price: $29.95
Rating: 90%

There is little that is more frustrating than spending days searching for the answer to a question, only to find out that the person in the next office knew the answer all along. While it's impossible to categorize everything a company's employees know, it is possible to identify the processes that are vital to a business' success and create a central repository for that information.

In Common Knowledge, George Washington University professor Nancy M. Dixon discusses how several large companies, most notably British Petroleum, Bechtel, Ford, and Texas Instruments, have gathered and disseminated knowledge within their organizations. Dr. Dixon begins by discussing the different types of knowledge, differentiating between explicit knowledge (knowledge of specific "things", such as facts and processes) and tacit knowledge (experience and instinct, developed over time). With the difference in mind, she discusses how knowledge is transferred among individuals and teams. Dixon delineates five different kinds of transfer, which are summarized in table 8-1 on pages 144-5:

Serial Transfer The knowledge a team has gained from doing its task in one setting is transferred to the next time that team does the task in a different setting.
Near Transfer Explicit knowledge a team has gained from doing a frequent and repeated task is reused by other teams doing similar work.
Far Transfer Tacit knowledge a team has gained from doing a nonroutine task is made available to other teams doing similar work in another part of the organization.
Strategic Transfer The collective knowledge of the organization is needed to accomplish a strategic task that occurs infrequently but is critical to the whole organization.
Expert Transfer A team facing a technical question beyond the scope of its own knowledge seeks the expertise of others in the organization.

In many cases, individuals tasked with creating a knowledge sharing system concentrate on expert transfer, though in many cases an organization would benefit from knowledge sharing based on one of the other four models. As an example, consider the Near Transfer model, where explicit knowledge is shared among teams doing similar tasks. If workers at one automobile plant found they could save time by installing a seat in a particular way, they could share that knowledge with the managers of other plants.

One of the better aspects of Dixon's book is her use of case studies to illustrate the different kinds of transfer and how knowledge management systems can be constructed to best facilitate knowledge transfer in each scenario. There's no one-size-fits-all solution, but Dixon's breadth of experience and insight make Common Knowledge a valuable resource for anyone who wants to share information effectively.

Curtis D. Frye (cfrye@teleport.com) is the editor and chief reviewer of Technology and Society Book Reviews.  He is the author of nine books and three online courses, including Privacy-Enhanced Business from Quorum Books.