Sub-theme 22: The strategic management of organizational knowledge: Creation versus control

Agustí Canals
Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Spain
Martin Ihrig
Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, USA

Call for Papers

The emergence of the knowledge economy has given rise to two complementary theoretical perspectives on strategy:

  1. The resource-based view (RBV) takes the possession of unique non-replicable resources as constituting a source of competitive advantage for an organization or a firm (Wernerfelt, 1984; Barney, 1991). And in much of the RBV literature, knowledge constitutes the key resource possessed by a firm – whether such knowledge is embodied in the minds of its employees, its rules, its routines, or its equipment (Nelson and Winter, 1982).
  2. The knowledge-based theory of the firm takes the possession of such knowledge as constituting the justification for having a firm (Spender, 1996; Grant, 1996). Where knowledge is unique and hard to articulate, it cannot be the object of arm's length market contracting. For this reason, transactions that have such knowledge either as their focus or as a support have to be brought within the boundaries of the firm.

The rapid development and spread of knowledge management practices in recent years, reflects a general familiarity with the two perspectives. Yet neither the theory-based discourse on knowledge that interests strategists nor the practice-based discourse that characterizes much knowledge management and attracts practitioners seem to connect much. At present, knowledge management constitutes a loosely-coupled set of practices rather than an intellectual discipline, and it experiences some difficulty selling itself as much more than a cost-saving exercise. It is primarily driven by the possibilities offered by IT for gaining more efficient and speedier access to a firm's existing stock of knowledge – a kind of product push rather than demand pull. When knowledge management's focus shifts from stocks to flows of knowledge within and across firms, it engages with the firm's learning and change processes and often becomes the responsibility of its HR or its management development function.

None of this is without value since, clearly, organizations and firms have difficulty managing their knowledge base. However, as has been the case with other fields of endeavor, knowledge management will only become a full-fledged discipline with its own founding concepts guiding the future development of practice when knowledge-based theories of organizations and firms that are being forged in the strategy field visibly both inform and become informed by knowledge management practices (Boisot, 1998). The challenge in bringing this about lies in the distance that still separates the stewardship-of-resources model that implicitly underpins much current knowledge management practice – i.e., how can we better secure and manage the knowledge that we already have? – and the more creative, open ended nature of the strategy process – i.e., how do we create more valuable knowledge? Clearly, within a certain range, the two perspectives are and should be complementary – first create knowledge, then manage it well. Yet, in day-to-day organizational practice, one is constantly facing a trade-off between them. On the one hand, an excessive concern with appropriating and exploiting knowledge tends to stifle creative exploration. On the other hand, an unfettered creativity that is decoupled from organizational or firm interests ends up dissipating potential rents and scarce resources

Although the trade-off between exploration and exploitation has been well researched, we believe that its organizational implications remain under-theorized. Are the two perspectives organizationally reconcilable? Would their effective reconciliation call for a re-think of our conception of organization? Of firms? Do the subjective preferences of different organizational actors – in the terms of this sub-theme, their "passion for creativity and innovation" – shape the terms on which exploration and exploitation are balanced out?

In this sub-theme, we invite papers that explore these and related questions. We would welcome papers that address the following:

  • What would strategic management of an organization’s or a firm’s knowledge resources look like?
  • How might this vary with industry, organizational size, or culture?

  • What are the organizational requirements of such management?

  • What are the cultural requirements of such management?

  • What are the affective requirements of such management?

  • What are the institutional requirements of such management?

  • How might the strategic perspective on the management of knowledge resources differ from current conceptions of knowledge management?

  • What would be the implications of this kind of management for our current conceptions of organization?

  • What would be the implications of this kind of management for the knowledge-based theory of the firm?

These questions are indicative and do not exhaust the theme. We also welcome contributions that explore other issues relevant to the theme.


Barney, J. (1991): "Firm resources and sustained competitive advantage." Journal of Management, 17, 99–120.

Boisot, M. (1998): Knowledge Assets: Securing Competitive Advantage in the Information Economy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Grant, R. (1996): "Toward a knowledge-based theory of the firm." Strategic Management Journal, 17, 109–122.

Nelson, R. and S. Winter (1982): An Evolutionary Theory of Economic Change. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Spender, J.C. (1996): "Making knowledge the basis of a dynamic theory of the firm." Strategic Management Journal, 17, 45–62.

Wernerfelt, B. (1984): "A resource-based view of the firm." Strategic Management Journal, 5 (2), 171–180.

Agustí Canals 
Martin Ihrig