"Anticipating Organizational Competences for Development through the Disclosing of Ignorance"


David Ing, Minna Takala, and Ian Simmonds


Organizations pursuing development of their competences must balance the pursuit of mastery in the present against the potential of innovations that may enable success in the future. In the present, key competences can be identified as work practices essential to the satisfaction of customers and other stakeholders. These competences may be improved incrementally, and/or more widely disseminated across the enterprise. In the future, however, the "right" competences to be developed are less clear. The potential customers, emerging technologies and/or key factors of competitiveness in the future are uncertain. The competences that are distinctive in the present may not be the competences that provide distinction in the future.

An approach that is currently popular is to view organizational activities from a perspective of knowledge. Inquiring systems provide a compatible foundation for this view. A related, but different view is based in social practices. Defining organizational competences in terms of social practices provides a more grounded understanding of action, but requires additional study on how change can be influenced and enabled. An approach based on disclosing new worlds can extend the social practices framework to be applied prescriptively.

The disclosing of ignorance is proposed to uncover competences that should be developed in anticipation of an uncertain future. A framework created in the Curriculum on Medical Ignorance at the University of Arizona College of Medicine is extended for application into the domain of business. In this domain, forms of ignorance are grouped into four categories, as: (a) known unknowns; (b) passive ignorances, as "ignoring" -- including errors and unknown knowns; (c) unknown unknowns; and (d) active ignorances, as "the ignored" -- including taboos and denials.

The first two categories are normally handled through focused research, and intercommunication programs where expertise and practices are shared. The latter two categories, however, are rarely addressed explicitly. They require more provocative forms of disclosing, so that "new worlds" can be presented as viable and desirable ways forward. The subject of ignorance may itself be a taboo in an organization. Issues with the dissemination of disclosing are discussed.

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David Ing, Minna Takala, and Ian Simmonds, "Anticipating Organizational Competences for Development through the Disclosing of Ignorance", Proceedings of the 47th Annual Meeting of the International Society for the System Sciences at Hersonissos, Crete, July 7-11, 2003.

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