InnoSpring Access 2007
WHEN IS VIRTUAL VIRTUOUS?
”What we do know is that the technology of virtuality, with its power both to separate people and
draw them together, calls out for examination…” (Cohen & Prusak, 2001, 21)
Knowledge-intensive environment is deeply rooted in open sharing and creation of knowledge.
Creative communities can be either physical, mental, or virtual (Sawhney & Prandelli, 2000). From
innovation viewpoint, it is useful to understand organizations as a set of social communities,
operating on various interfaces and having different time perspectives.
Technology-resistant luddites of the 1990s were afraid of wolves, which did not come. Instead, we
have seen Web 2.0 to appear. Internet is not a force of nature with a huge destruction capacity,
breaking existing social networks – instead, it can be thought as their extension (Uslaner, 2000).
For some reason we still tend to think like in the ages of information: virtual communication is
always temporary and superficial in nature, all social cues are missing, and cooperation cannot be
systematically coordinated because of the lack of mediating norms. If any of these arguments held
true, no successful virtual community would exist.
However, we do know this is not the case. A virtual community allows people to co-operate and
share knowledge despite the limits of time, space and traditional organization. Community
members share a common interest, upon which they ground their norms and frames, and over time
adopt roles that seem most applicable for them. While others become leaders, others contribute
knowledge and co-operate actively; most members, however, stay at the background.
It is evident that virtuality also sets challenges for the social processes of knowledge creation.
Communication is impeded by cultural differences, lack of commitment, lack of trust, and unclarity
of shared meanings and language (Ardichvili et al., 2003; Wasko & Faraj, 2005). Knowledge flows
will be paralyzed if there are no shared procedures, practices and common values. Building shared
understanding requires time and in purely virtual environment this process is even slower than in
face-to-face settings. It is important for management to understand the frames of virtual
community-based collaboration and trust its employees – the Net is not a channel for monitoring or
control but for more open knowledge. Also, community-supporting tools should be developed and
implemented on a socio-technical basis, not forged by technology.
By applying new communication tools, companies strive for cost savings, efficiency, customer-
orientation, and better information management, to name a few. Fundamentally, the key issue
seems to be individuals’ and groups’ capability and motivation to apply virtual technologies as a
form of social interaction. For capable organizations, the Net offers new opportunities to build
groups of peers, share knowledge more openly and flexibly, and to engage in on-going dialogue
with partners and customers.
M.Sc. (Econ.), Researcher Miia Kosonen is currently working on her PhD, studying virtual
communication and the related social processes.
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