Q24- KM and Power: Constant(?) Bed Fellows

When two persons of unequal power, authority or influence interact, the result is different from those described in my previous blog post (“12 Types of Learning”):



The root causes of human behavior lie in past experiences (extreme left box in the diagram). Therefore the most effective (or most insidious) method of controlling human behavior over the long term is through training (from earliest childhood) and religious or political indoctrination. The social nature of knowledge implies that groupthink and imposed visions and values are the next most effective mechanisms. “Carrot and stick” (or rewards and punishments) methods achieve shorter-term results.

Power differentials exist everywhere. You see this dynamics as it occurs every day between boss and subordinate, between parent and child, between professor and student, between government and citizens, between a person pointing a gun at another person, etc. Most likely you participate in it too, both from a superordinate position and from a subordinate position in the same day and in the same organization! We are part of the problem! I label it a “problem” because vertical dynamics are easily anti-learning.

We often do the above interaction types out of unconscious habit. If we do it to another who is our equal we appear to him as arrogant, presumptuous or disrespectful. For example, criticism triggers an equally unconscious reaction from the other person of defense, counterattack and debate that result more to mutual irritation than to mutual learning. Praise could appear as patronizing.

The terms “knowledge transfer” and “learning” hardly apply to the interactions in the above diagram, unless we stretch our common understanding of those terms to apply them to hierarchical societies such as North Korea and fundamentalist religious-military groups like Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines and Taliban in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border areas. What happens in these societies is a coerced or indoctrinated replication of belief systems from parent to child, and from leader to follower.

Learning hardly happens or happens slowly. We saw in Q8 (“Wanted: Workable Tools for Voluntary Paradigm Shifting”) that in vertical or hierarchical societies, learning is extremely slow. Below I reproduce the table from Q8. Notice from the table that two factors result to mankind’s very long Unlearning Cycles: (1) institutionalized vested interests and/or (2) institutionalized rules to prevent people from thinking freely.


In real-world organizations, the knowledge dynamics is often a mix of KM-across-power-differentials and KM-across-equals, or what we can call vertical KM and horizontal KM. Leadership and culture affect this mix from organization to organization. Even in development-oriented organizations, this mix shows up clearly in how projects are evaluated. I wrote about the difference between vertical learning and horizontal learning, or between conventional project evaluation and post-project knowledge capture including lessons-learned sessions. Again, the cultural momentum and context of an organization determine how the mix is tilted between vertical and horizontal dynamics:


The challenge is how to develop perspectives and effective tools for conscious shifting of the mix away from vertical towards more of horizontal dynamics. One way is by using military force to shift a nation from dictatorship to democracy, as what President Bush started by invading Iraq and getting rid of Saddam Hussein. Another way is to help organizations voluntarily shift towards becoming learning organizations. In Q26 I will write about how this shift has been unconsciously but inexorably taking place over the last three centuries.

What do you think? Do you agree that we may all be participating in this problem?

(Note that there are embedded links in this blog post. They show up as colored text. While pressing “Ctrl” click on any link to create a new tab to reach the websites pointed to.)

=>Back to main page of Apin Talisayon’s Weblog
=>Jump to Clickable Master Index

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

6 Responses to “Q24- KM and Power: Constant(?) Bed Fellows”

  1. Peter Spence Says:

    Hello Apin,

    The ideas of Mary Parker Follet (1968-1933), referrred to by Peter Drucker as the Prophet of Management (P Graham:1995), more specifically her concept of ‘power with’ as an alternative to ‘power over’ appear to closely align with your reference to Horizontal KM – KM and Power across equals? .

    Follett’s concepts of circular response, integrative behaviour, constructive conflict, horizontal authority, teacher student relationship, cross functional committees etc, appear to have provided the basis for many current concepts such as integrative – relational based negotiations, horizontal flat organisations, networks, learning organsiations, boundaryless organsatons, and action learning (Pauline Graham: 1995 – Mary Parker Follett: The Prophet of Management).

    I had recently posted a linked in forum discusssion question ‘Have we caught up with Mary Parker Follett Yet?’ and it appears that Graham (1995) had answered this question much earlier, by observing that Follett’s ideas were ahead of and perhaps not of her time. It appears that our current organising environment is now ripe for Follett’s concepts. It is noted that the collaborative network forms and hierarchal, vertical organising environment and authorative vertical KM and Power still vary across cultures and contexts – the shift from one to another is the emerging challenge in our increasingly networked world.

    What is your view of the links between Follett’s concepts, and your discusson on horizontal KM and the KM/Power constant?


  2. apintalisayon Says:

    Hello again Peter!

    Thank you for pointing me to Follett’s earlier work. I want to do some catch-up reading on her writings. Where is the best place for me to start?

    William E. Halal (The New Capitalism, The Infinite Resource, and other books) pointed out that the fall of the Soviet Union taught us that the market economy (economic decision by the many) is superior to central planning (economic decision by the few), yet central planning is still the basic management model within corporations and government bureaucracies (effective government oversight mechanisms, however, may need to be installed over the financial sector – the lesson of the global financial crisis).

    Yes I do agree that our increasingly networked world puts pressure towards shifting from vertical to horizontal dynamics.

  3. Peter Spence Says:

    Hello Apin,

    Two very good reference books to read up on and gain an overview on Follett’s work include:

    Dynamic Administraiton: The Collected Papers of mary Parker Follett Edited by Ellio M Fox and L. Urwick – covers Follett’s papers on concepts such as Constructive Conflict, Power, Business as an Integrative Unity, Giving or Orders, Teacher-Student relationship, Leader as Expert etc.

    Mary Parker Follett: Prophet of Management, A Celebration of Writings from the 1920s. Edited by Pauline Graham (1995).

    The Mary Parker Follett Foundation website http://www.follettfoundation.org/mpf.htm is a good reference site.

    Other insightful reference papers include:

    Deborah M Kolb (1995) The love for three oranges or; What did we miss about of Ms Follett in the library? (Negotiation Journal)

    Albie M. Davis. (1989) An Interview With Mary Parker Follett. Negotiation Journal 5:3, 223-235

    As you mention: Central Planningis still the basic management model within corporations and government bureacracies. This appears to be the lingering legacy of scientific management, and perhaps the underlying reason for many failures in alliances, networks, mergers etc, where we see the adherence to an outdated management mindset applied to new forms of organising (over managed and under led). A stronger focus upon leadership is required and this may become an obvious lesson from the global financial crisis. Organisations will need to learn how they can stay small but act big in future – scaling up and becoming more powerful through network relationships (accessing and managing increased Knowledge, resources, expertise etc, through relationships) – this will require a stronger reliance upon leadership to facilitate boundary spanning, greater connections, and the sharing of knowledge, resources etc, that results in collaborative advantage and the creation of value.

    Kind Regards

  4. apintalisayon Says:

    Thanks a million Peter!

    I will start with the Foundation website and look for the interview.

  5. Albie Davis Says:

    Dear Apin,

    I just came across your blog and your exchange with Peter Spence. If you have a hard time locating the “interview” with Mary Parker Follett, feel free to contact me at albiedavis@aol.com and I will email you a copy. By the way, I wrote the article in 1989 and Follett died in 1933, so the interview format was my way of allowing her to speak in her own voice.

    How to you paraphrase someone who can sum up the value of conflict thusly: “All polishing is done by friction.”

    Warmly, Albie Davis (Thomaston, Maine, USA)

  6. apintalisayon Says:

    Thanks, Albie. I will be emailing you directly for this interview copy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: