A tale of 3 papers: Ubuntu, cross-cultural knowledge transfer and KM…

Today, I came accross some really interesting papers which made me think that I haven’t paid enough attention to relevant articles in mainstream knowledge management. Some of them are articles with a twist in the sense that they come from the mainstream (ie non-development literature) but they are focused on issues of interest to us. I’d like to thank Mike Powell for sending me in the direction of ubuntu and Julie for her considerable help in locating the papers..

Paper 1
Ubuntu as a key African management concept: contextual background and practical insights for knowledge application
Karsten, Luchien; Illa, Honorine (2005)
Journal of Managerial Psychology, 20(7), 607-620
The article explores how an increasing attention which is being paid to language and culture in organisations can help people to understand the impact of particular management concepts in business practices. A range of publications has been selected to indicate how important language in organisations is and how particular cultural backgrounds influence the applicabilty of management concepts. This has been illustrated with the concept Ubuntu, which gains popularity in South Africa. The applicabilty of Ubuntu in companies will rely on the habitus of the manager to be a good conversationalist.This very interesting paper refers to two others which, I think, are going to be utterly fascinating…

Paper 2
Building competitive advantage from ubuntu: management lessons from South Africa
M. Mangaliso (2001)
Academy of Management Executive 15(3) 23-34

Although I’m not sure of its contents, having only now asked the author for a copy, the way it is quoted in the above paper by Karsten and Illa makes me very keen to read it:

traditional management training places greater emphasis on the efficiency of information transfer. Ideas must be translated quickly and accurately into words, the medium of the exchange must be appropriate and the reader must accurately understand the message. In the Ubuntu context, however, the social effect of conversation is emphasized, with primacy given to establishing and reinforcing relationships. Unity and understanding among effect group members is valued above efficiency and accuracy of language…’ (Mangaliso 2001: 26)

Paper 3
Why cross-cultural knowledge transfer is a form of translation in more ways than you think
Nigel J. Holden and Harald F. O. Von Kortzfleisch (2004)
Knowledge and Process Management 11( 2): 127–136
Knowledge transfer is often likened to acts of translation. It is argued that translation is a very robust analogue of knowledge transfer and that theory provides insight into cross-cultural sharing processes. Three issues which affect the quality of translation and, hence, knowledge transfer are highlighted: ambiguity, interference (intrusion from one’s own cultural background) and lack of equivalence. Other terms from translation science, which can serve as a useful reference for knowledge management experts, are discussed: translation as a networking activity, process and end-product quality, levels of accuracy and constraints on the production of good translations. A new concept is introduced to the knowledge management community; namely convertibility, which refers to the perceived utility of a knowledge source and the availability of domain experts to reveal its import to final users. Two models representing knowledge transfer as translation are presented, the second of which incorporates Nonaka’s SECI model.

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