Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Pursuing knowledge

There are many articles in the last few decades on pursuing knowledge as a competitive tool. They contrast sharply with the traditional view of knowledge seeking as self fulfilling. Many philosophers along three thousand years considered seeking knowledge as the end rather than the means. Knowledge had for a long long time been kept high up in the ivory towers. The general population rarely had a chance to get near. This has changed gradually since the invention of the moving press, and now knowledge is freely available to those who could afford the time and effort.

I see a major turning point in Michael Porter who is famous for his theories on competition. His main field of research is on competition among companies, how they achieve competitive advantages and how to accommodate in the competitive environment. These theories are the bible for MBA students and those studying commerce and management. Such thoughts are applied to many self improvement studies. Equipping yourselves and sharpening your saw are important steps towards success in competition.

Nowadays, as academics observed, some people seek knowledge for the purpose of getting credential for competition, in a phenomenon called credentialism. They try to get credentials in the most expedient way. Last week, I had dinner with my PolyU professor. He said many Master degree courses are moving to taught mode as it is popular among students. Dissertation and research work are not necessary. Students just have to complete the taught modules. Professors try hard to help students pass the examinations. Actually, real knowledge starts when it is being used. Getting a degree is no guarantee for that. Getting a second degree or a research degree only helps prepare one to start better. EO as human resource managers will know how recruitment works. Normally, job candidates meeting the minimum academic qualifications are good enough on face value. The selection process aims at relevant working experience and achievement. In selection interview, good human resource managers would avoid asking questions that the candidates could answer citing textbook examples. Rather, situational questions could be asked to test how the candidates apply their knowledge at work.

On knowledge, there is a milestone event in Adam Smith proposing the idea of division of labour, thus applying the knowledge of individuals in their own places. Knowledge would then be needed to secure one's position, compete among peers, and as a tool to move up the ladder. The next big step is the introduction of the motivation theories, thus the knowledge field of human resource management is born.

There are many people who could see through the real purpose of human resource management, that human is a resource to be managed. The ultimate aim is economics, or the maximum utilization of the resources. Adam Smith's theory on fair pay for work done is not sufficient. Maslow's hierarchy of needs and Hertzberg's motivators both advocate exploiting human psychology. They put monetary rewards as low level needs or just hygiene factors. It is the human desire for recognition, love, and power that could be used to make a person work hard voluntarily. Some call it win-win as the employers win with employees working happily. Some call it heartless as employers are exploiting personal feeling for corporate benefits. There is some truth in it. We could just look at the training and development programme. The whole purpose of offering more knowledge to the employees is the furtherance of their value in work.

A by-product of this development is work life imbalance. There are people who are addicted to knowledge of work and become seriously workaholic. There are people who are disgusted and desperately seek other knowledge to the extent that they wander aimlessly in the sea of knowledge. There are also people who have their own purpose of life despite lingering in work irresponsibly for its pay but with their mind and heart elsewhere. Luckily there are also a lot of healthy people who could manage knowledge for work and life, with activities benefiting both sides.

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