Knowledge Architects Wanted

By Tammi L. Coles

Organisations that embrace cross-domain knowledge can attain sustainable agility. In this article, the author highlights the significant yet often overlooked difference between specialist knowledge and architectural knowledge in the promotion of organisational agility.


Today’s fast-paced digitalisation and increasingly turbulent global markets mean that the ability of an organisation to renew itself, adapt, and succeed is more important than ever. The effectiveness with which a company is able to respond to the increasing variability of markets and technologies is what we commonly understand as agility – its ability to adapt and swiftly reconfigure internal processes and resources to meet new challenges.

Back in 2006, researchers Stefano Brusoni and Andrea Prencipe wrote a case study for Organization Science called “Making Design Rules: A Multidomain Perspective”. In focus was the Italian multinational tire manufacturer Pirelli, who in the late 1990s introduced MIRS, the Modular Integrated Robotized System. At the time of that introduction, the tire industry was struggling with the dramatic potential of robotics in product development and manufacturing processes. Pirelli was in an especially difficult position, noted the researchers – caught between the high expectations of carmakers that required customised tires and its own low innovation trend. If Pirelli wanted to continue to meet the needs of customers in the medium to high-end market segments, however, innovation would be required.

After Pirelli’s bid to acquire a major competitor failed, MIRS was the company’s last hope to defend its reputation as a market supplier for high-quality tires. For Prof. Gianluca Carnabuci, Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour at ESMT Berlin, the MIRS strategic choice illustrates how radical innovation paired with architectural knowledge can navigate a company through organisational change.

“Organisational agility tends to get slower as companies mature”, says Carnabuci. “This is not a phenomenon of just traditional manufacturing companies – all organisations, without exceptions, tend to such inertia. What top management is challenged to do, then, is to design organisational processes and human resource (HR) systems that can make an organisation sustainably agile. Knowledge architects are wanted and needed.”

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About the Author

Tammi L. Coles is the Digital Editor for Corporate Communications and Marketing at ESMT Berlin. She has extensive experience in American English copywriting, content marketing, translation, and communications project management.


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