Polycentric Order in Organizations: a dialogue between Michael Polanyi and IT-consultants on knowledge, morality, and organization Defended on Thursday, 1 September 2005

The last decade there has been a tremendous interest in organization studies and management practice for the role of knowledge in organizations. The predominant approach has been fairly one-sided. The question usually was “How can organizations develop knowledge?” without posing the reverse: “How can knowledge develop organizations?” When we realize that the increased importance of knowledge has in some cases altered the fundaments of the firm, it is time to reconsider the nature of knowledge intensive organizations. Through increasing specialization and a reliance on professionals the knowledge can no longer be centralized in a managerial hierarchy. Thereby the legitimacy of the manager’s ability to decide, and the rationality of the organization is in question. This thesis is to envision an alternative that goes under the name polycentric order, a concept forwarded by the Hungarian philosopher Michael Polanyi, well-known for his concept tacit knowledge. Polycentric order entails the idea that decisions develop from open conversations, and organization emerges from participation. This thesis describes how professionals can create a safe haven (Dutch: “vrijplaats”) for their professional development in an organization. In contrast to a community of practice it is a means for professionals to negotiate on dedicated resources for a longer period of time. In this way professionals have responsibility for their own development, and do not yield this responsibility to their organization.


Polycentric Order, Tacit Knowledge, Participation, Professional, Emergence, Michael Polanyi, Catalyst of Meaning, Vrijplaats

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