Throughout the course, we have learn how decision making is affected mainly by heuristics and biases derived from the knowledge and experiences of the people; as we know, knowledge is a critical factor that affects an organization's ability to remain competitive in the global market; therefore, organizations have the need to manage this valuable resource with the aim to implement systems in order to support the creation, transfer and application of this knowledge within the firm.
According to Herbert Simon, individual judgment is bounded in its rationality and due to this, we can better understand decision making by searching solutions that will help to face a specific problem; however it is imply that the strategies raised in this process are influenced by the learning and knowledge acquired by the decision makers in order to take optimal solutions; by the aforementioned, knowledge management plays a significant role as an informative guide during the decision making process. This approach involves organizing and presenting knowledge to users in ways that would enhance their interpretation of the available knowledge and thus enable them to apply it more effectively in solving problems (O'Leary 2003).
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For all the above, the aim of this essay is to raise and answer the question of how knowledge visualization enhance decision making process? And considering the use of visualization within the field of knowledge management, analyze the importance and impact of this system in the development of expertise for effective decision making.
Knowledge can be defined as the understanding, awareness, or familiarity acquired through study, investigation, observation, or experience over the course of time; it is an individual's interpretation of information based on personal experiences, skills, and competencies (Bollinger et al., 2001); this knowledge can exist in the individual or the collective (Nonaka, 1994) ); in this sense individual knowledge is created by and exists in the individual, while collective or social knowledge is created by the actions of groups.
However it is also important to analyze how is defined knowledge in the organization's perspective and it is mainly related about what people know about customers, products, processes, mistakes, and successes (Grayson and O'Dell, 1998); it can be stored in databases but also gives the opportunity to be shared trough experiences that leads to best practices. The importance of organizational knowledge, is mainly because enable the firm to reach deeper levels of understanding and awareness among their employees in all organization levels, allowing the empowering of their business expertise and wisdom; this expertise is reflected trough the organizations knowledge, transforming individual experiences into collective knowledge and expertise in order to achieve growth and learning in benefit of the organization.
Nonaka (1994), based on Polanyi (1962, 1967), distinguishes two dimensions of knowledge in organizations and these are tacit and explicit knowledge; tacit refers a knowledge possessed only by an individual and difficult to communicate while explicit is easy to identify, communicate, store, and retrieve; however tacit knowledge forms the background necessary for assigning the structure to develop and interpret explicit knowledge (Polanyi, 1975).
Therefore, this link between tacit and explicit knowledge suggest that only individuals with a indispensable level of shared knowledge can truly exchange knowledge; in other words, this means that in order for a person to be able and exchange or transfer its knowledge, this person has to be already aware of the context of that knowledge.
For all the above, when knowledge within the organization is shared, it becomes a valuable asset that will be embedded within the organization's processes. Grant (1997) asserts that tacit knowledge is demonstrated only in its application and due to this; the organization should not be focused only into capture what everyone knows so that everyone has the same knowledge, but to combine all the levels of expertise among the employees with the aim to create new organizational knowledge and use it to improve processes in which decision making is involve; however it is not an easy task due to will require networking and communication channels to both control and encourage the sharing and collaboration of information and knowledge, here is where knowledge Management plays a key role.
Knowledge Management (KM) is increasingly being recognized by individuals and organizations as an important competitive strategy (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995); nowadays, it is important that organizations are able to find a way and keep the existing knowledge but also improve its creation and transfer, in order to preserve and expand their core competences. These competences are reflected in the skills needed to innovate new products and services but also to improve the existing ones more efficiently; however all these improvements cannot be achieved without taking the proper decision about how knowledge should be transferred. This management perspective offers theories and methods to help an organization to become more effective in terms of sharing of information and innovation and thus be more profitable; likewise, KM captures the organization's know-how and know-what through creation, collection, storage, distribution, and application (Miller, 1999) of the information.
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The use of KM lies in the implementation of measures to solve problems in organizations associated with knowledge such as (1) information overload; it refers to the difficulty a person can have understanding an issue and making decisions that can be caused by the presence of too much information (Yang, C.C.; Chen, Hsinchun;Honga, Kay 2003); (2) repetition of same mistakes; lessons learned from projects are not documented, therefore,
the same mistakes are made repeatedly (Burkhard, 2005); (3) isolated knowledge sources: it refers that information is isolated, not accessible, not shared, or knowledge sources are unknown, finally, (4) brain drain: that refers the loss of a knowledge worker (Burkhard, 2005); most of these problems can directly influence the decision making process and because of that KM use many techniques to help and solve this kind of issues.
Most of the knowledge management systems use technological tools such as computer information technology; however this is not indispensable; organizational knowledge can be effectively managed by employing mechanisms such as project teams and mentoring programs where the new employees have the opportunity to learn in a tangible and practical ways from experiences shared by expert employees. However, exists some barriers that can affect the efficiency of KM mainly because is very difficult to transfer tacit knowledge; in addition to this, it is known that knowledge is constantly changing in both individual and organizational level having as a result a gap between how people perform their jobs and response to unexpected challenges and problems (Brown and Duguid, 2000).
To exemplify these barriers we can analyze that sometimes exist much information available within the firm and people are unable to assimilate it due to lack of appropriate knowledge and as consequence many processes like decision making results in information overload, making difficult to take an optimal solution; likewise, another example that we can found is the unwillingness to share knowledge within teamworks but also at individual level; and this is because people may have fear criticism from their peers; however, we also have to consider that professional knowledge is perceived as a source of power (Quinn et al., 1996) and because of that, there is a sense of worth and status to be gained because of expertise, therefore people can also feel that there will be a diminished personal value after giving up know-how (Hibbard and Carrillo, 1998).
One way to overcome this is with the encouragement of knowledge transfer that facilitates the sharing of information and experiences that can positively integrate the individual knowledge within the collective and with that support the development of expertise of decision makers; in this sense visualization knowledge can be an effective tool to achieve it. Most effective decision making is carried out by experts and has been proved that experts do not make decisions in the same way that novices do; this is because experienced human being ultimately leads to better performance than does the formal approach often practiced by beginners (Dreyfus, 1982).
The field of knowledge visualization (KV), studies the use of visual representations to improve the creation and transfer of knowledge between at least two people (Burkhard, 2005). Knowledge Visualization can be seen as an important part in knowledge management because provide insights, experiences, attitudes, values, expectations, perspectives, opinions and predictions, in a way that enables someone else to re-construct, remember and apply these insights correctly (Eppler 2004). Knowledge visualization, examines the use and implementation of this representations to improve the management of knowledge and enable the transfer in all levels (personal, collective and organizational).
Some examples of these representations are graphic formats like heuristic sketches, conceptual diagrams, visual metaphors and knowledge maps that help to compress big amounts of information using analytical frameworks to absorb the complexity, to then make it easier to assimilate and avoid issues like information overload; likewise by representing cognitive structures or mental models using various techniques, knowledge visualization has the potential to facilitate the construction of understandings at a deeper level as well as with multiple perspectives such as interpretation and abstraction (Wang, Jacobson, 2011); for the aforementioned, this tool can facilitate and enhance processes in which the transfer, creation and application of knowledge have a key role such as decision making.
In addition, some other benefits by implementing KV that can positively influence in the enhancement of decision making process is the conclusion reached by Burkhart and Eppler in which demonstrate that peoples' thinking and communicating abilities can be increased radically when visualizations are used appropriately; furthermore, visualizations attract the attention making possible to increase the ability to remember significant information used to solve problems.
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Nowadays, organizations are facing the struggle to utilize these kinds of visual sources in an optimal way; by using the strategy of visualization within decision making we can address these challenges by integrating this approach and introduce in an effective way the complex share of information allowing workers who come from different disciplines and who have different experience levels and skills to increase their understanding and be able to use it for more effective decision making which as consequence will positively impact the business performance of the organization. Burkhard (2004b, p.14) claims that knowledge visualization improves knowledge transfer among decision makers because the information can be shared with higher quality making easy to overcome issues such as misinterpretation; therefore, the quality of the decisions can be better analyzed in order to take the best solution.
For all the above and in order to take advantage of the opportunities provided by knowledge visualization to enhance decision making processes, organizations should take in consideration a structured approach to implement and spread the proper use of this tool; they should start by assessing their current decision making capabilities and also identify processes that can develop opportunities and areas where visualization can certainly lead to a significant improvement in decision making. In this process, organizations should use models to help the workers to understand the use of this tool; decision makers are likely to see a significant improvements when these individual and collective tools are connected in all levels at the organization; this allows to reach higher levels of collaboration and decision optimization where users will be beneficiated by gaining more experience that will be also reflected in their productivity
After doing my research on knowledge visualization, I could analyze the benefits from using visualization techniques in organizations with the aim to improve the quality and effectiveness of the knowledge transfer, being this a valuable core competence for organizations therefore, the strengthen of core competences becomes essential to build a solid competitive advantage.
Knowledge Visualization is a promising approach that helps the organizations to increase the communication and flow of information in terms of quality, efficiency and effectiveness, which as a result increase and attract the attention, reduce significantly information overload and positively improves the quality of better decision making.
Today's managers are still not familiar with all the different visualization techniques offered, that's why I consider a great opportunity the use of visualizations within knowledge management, because in that way, helps future managers to facilitate the creation and sharing of information not only at personal level but also in a collective an organizational way; providing the tools to achieve a deeper understanding by knowing how to use and how to create visual representations in the different and complex business processes giving also the chance to develop their skills and acquire more expertise.
The field of Knowledge visualization has not yet been studied extensively and because of this, I had some troubles finding accurate sources to support my findings; However, I believe that is an interesting and relevant field of study in the context of developing and implementation of new strategies to make more accessible the knowledge; for the aforementioned I'm sure that in the nearby future, organizations will focused their resources to research more in this area.
Finally to conclude and despite of being a new field of research in the branch of knowledge management, knowledge visualization has demonstrated potential advantages bringing the tools to encourage a deeper reasoning and as consequence improve the problem solving with the enhancement of more experienced decision makers.