Blackler (1995) came up with four different types of companies and different types of knowledge each emphasize on. Dividing the employers between two kinds of work - Working with Familiar Problems (Retail, Hospitality, Healthcare, Utilities) and Working with Novel Problems (Consultancy, Advertising, High Technology) - and two kinds of cultures - those which emphasise collective behavior and those who emphasize key individuals - he came up with a 2x2 matrix with four different knowledge types.
The four types of employers in his framework were:
A) 'Machine Bureaucracies', like McDonald's, which are working with familiar problems and emphasize on collective behaviour. The knowledge needed to do the job has been 'routinised'. The type of knowledge that counts for these kind of organisations is 'Embedded Knowledge', knowledge of processes, rules and technologies. This is at all levels, not just for the unfortunate front-line person. The ability to learn the processes and discipline to follow them is crucial for success in this environment.
B) 'Professional Bureaucracies', like a Hospital, which focus on familiar problems but is dependent on key individuals, the Doctors in this case. Accordingly, the culture is much more 'expert dependent' in this case, and individual credentials count a lot. These organisations prioritise on 'Embodied Knowledge', credentials, professional reputation etc. and having good degrees matter a lot in these environments.
C) 'Adhocracies', like Management Consultancies (say PWC or Deloitte), which have to deal with novel problems but has a more 'collective' culture. These organisations are 'communication intensive', in that they are crucially dependent on the communication with the clients. The type of knowledge that seems to matter in these environments are 'Encultured Knowledge', the lingo, types of behaviour and presentation that differentiates one firm from another. In these environments, the integration to the culture is the key.
D) 'Knowledge Intensive Firms', like High Tech Firms, which has to deal with novel problems and have an individualistic culture. The work in these organisations are dependent on 'symbolic analysis', often 'finding the problem', and the type of knowledge valued in its hallways is 'Embrained Knowledge', the geeky stuff that we hear about so much. Credentials are less important - people in these organisations would love to boast that Harvard was too boring for them (and hence they dropped out) - and creative achievements are the most important things people are respected for.
This framework looks intuitively correct and one way to apply the framework in the context of current discussion is to think how the universities, particularly the non-selective ones, can handle the competing demands of different types of employers and yet meet the soaring aspirations of its students. It is not surprising that each institution in the end settles for one type of employer or the other.
However, there is a second way of thinking about this framework and that is the point I really want to make. It is quite obvious that the universities themselves fall into one type or the other: A mass institution can not perhaps avoid the pull of being a 'Professional Bureaucracy' whereas the more selective ones usually develop the culture much alike a 'Knowledge Intensive Firm'. The For-Profits, which often encourage a collectivist culture, end up being either Machine Bureaucracies or Adhocracies themselves, and intuitively prepare students with one type of knowledge or the other. The problem, however, is that this diversity in Higher Education is mostly unacknowledged: This happens, but no one wants to talk about it. Every Higher Ed institution wants to pretend that they are knowledge intensive and everyone seems to suffer from a strange disease, which goes by various names ('Carnegie Creep', 'Harvard Envy', 'Oxford Pretensions'). Models work better when one is aware of its own culture and chooses its objectives carefully: They are hard to build when one does not know where to stand.
Blacker, F (1995) ‘Knowledge, Knowledge Work and Organisations: An Overview and Interpretation’, Organization Studies, Vol. 16, No. 6