The Knowing Organization:
How Organizations Use Information To Construct Meaning, Create Knowledge, and Make Decisions

Chun Wei Choo

Second Edition

Oxford University Press, New York, 2006

Full text and abstracts are available online at

Oxford Scholarship Online: The Knowing Organization

Oxford University Press book catalogue page

The first edition was published by Oxford in 1998.

"Professor Choo has taken on the enormous challenge of integrating research in organizational theory and information science in order to understand how organizations can become better information processing systems. Working from this perspective as a Professor of Information Studies, Choo integrates apparently divergent points of view from the literature on meaning construction and sense-making, knowledge creation and building, and decision making. His purpose is to propose a framework of the 'knowing' organization. The strength of his work lies in the breadth of research he has covered in each of these domains."

-- Dorothy Leonard, Harvard Business School, Harvard University

"A very readable and informative compendium and synthesis of the large array of contributions that have been made to the management and development of knowledge within organizations. A must for the knowing manager."

-- Russell L. Ackoff, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

"A fluent, persuasive, elegant writer, Choo convinces us that to survive and prosper, an understanding of how people use information in organizations is fundamental ... I see the book as a text to be used in graduate courses dealing with organizational theory, information management, knowledge management, information use, and systems design."

-- Ethel Auster, Faculty of Information Studies, University of Toronto.

"The Knowing Organization is by far the best high level academic text I have found on this subject."

-- Bryan Gladstone, Senior Lecturer in Knowledge Management at Sheffield Business School.

"It is an impressive synthesis of a vast amount of literature - over 300 references, that reflects the wide range of ideas that have influenced thinking on the whole subject of the management and development of knowledge within organisations, particularly over the past decade. The book should be read by anyone with a serious interest in knowledge management. It could be a valuable addition to the reading list for a wide range of under/postgraduate courses, as well as being of value to researchers in the area."

-- Bruce Lloyd, principal lecturer in strategy at London South Bank University

"The book is well researched, argued, and written. Choo shows that he is a fluent and even artful writer. In addition, Choo's decision to use a number of organisational cases is most wise. These cases serve to offer concrete examples and maintain high reader interest. It is certainly true that these cases will help make the book more accessible to the wider, non-academic readership that the author includes among his intended audiences. On the other hand, it is possible that practitioners may find the book overly theoretical for their tastes and may resist the sometimes long paragraph structures featured. But those readers who commit themselves to the task will find their efforts amply rewarded."

-- Ralph Adler, University of Otago, review in Accounting and Finance 2001 41(1), p. 131-2.

"Because this book examines system design and knowledge management by treating the corporation as an information-seeking, creating, and using community, it has direct relevance to scholars of communication in the corporate context. Choo builds a framework that shows the corporation as an organised intelligent seeker, creator, and user of information and knowledge for the construction of meaning and decision-making. He incorporates Karl Weick’s theory of sensemaking in the sharing of meanings and the use of rules and routines to reduce complexity and uncertainty. The text is well crafted and detailed, requiring some effort to navigate through the many concepts and levels of integration that Choo attempts in building his framework. The book will appeal to information systems specialists, and should be attentively visited by communication specialists, too."

-- Richard Varey, University of Salford, review in Corporate Communications: An International Journal 1999 4(2), p. 106-7.

"I know my students will love reading this textbecause it addresses many issues we discuss in class: knowledge creation, constructing meaning, decision-making, and nested information activities."

-- Cal W. Downs, School of Business, Kansas University

"This text integrates two great interests of management scholars. The subject is organized well, in fact, it is quite creative."

-- Timothy Peterson, College of Business Administration, University of Tulsa

A review of the second edition by Tom Wilson is published in Information Research.

An in-depth review of the first edition is in the Semiotic Review of Books, written by Barend van Heusden and Rene Jorna, both of the University of Groningen.

From the Preface

This book brings together the research in organization theory and information science in a general framework for understanding the richness and complexity of information use in organizations. Research in organization theory suggests that organizations create and use information in three strategic arenas. First, organizations interpret information about the environment in order to construct meaning about what is happening to the organization and what the organization is doing. Second, they create new knowledge by converting and combining the expertise and know-how of their members in order to learn and innovate. Finally, they process and analyze information in order to select and commit to appropriate courses of action. We combine these perspectives into a model of how organizations use information to adapt to external change and to foster internal growth. The knowing organization model looks at how people and groups work with information to accomplish three outcomes: (1) create an identity and a shared context for action and reflection, (2) develop new knowledge and new capabilities, and (3) make decisions that commit resources and capabilities to purposeful action.

Research in information science on information seeking behavior suggests that when people seek and use information, they are influenced by a number of cognitive, affective, and situational contingencies. Thus, different types of cognitive gaps lead to the activation of different information behaviors to bridge those gaps. Affective and emotional states influence the preferences and modes of information seeking. Characteristics of the work or problem situation determine the ways that information is used and assessed to be helpful (or otherwise). We use this multi-tier approach to analyze information seeking and use in the organizationÕs sensemaking, knowledge building, and decision making processes.

Changes in the Second Edition

Three of the seven chapters in the second edition are essentially new. Chapter 6 (A Tale of Two Accidents) and Chapter 7 (Knowing and Learning in Organizations) are written specially for this edition. Chapter 4 (The Management of Learning: Organizations as Knowledge-Creating Enterprises) has been expanded to twice its length in the first edition. Chapter 2 (How We Come to Know: Understanding Information Seeking Behavior) has been augmented significantly with recent research. Each chapter now ends with a concise summary of the most important messages of the chapter. Many more case studies and organizational examples have been included (see list of case studies following the table of contents).


  • Chapter 1 The Knowing Organization

      1. A Preview of the Knowing Organization

      2. Sensemaking

      3. Knowledge Creation

      4. Decision Making

      5. Towards The Knowing Organization

      6. The Knowing Cycle

      7. The Knowing Cycle In Action

      8. Summary

  • Chapter 2 How We Come to Know - Understanding Information Seeking Behavior

      1. Information Needs and Uses Research

      2. Framework for Analyzing Information Seeking Behavior

      3. Cognitive, Affective, and Situational Dimensions of

      4. Information Seeking Behavior

      5. Information Seeking Behavior: Information Needs, Seeking and Use

      6. Multifaceted Models of Information Seeking Behavior

      7. Summary

  • Chapter 3 The Management of Ambiguity: Organizations as Sensemaking Communities

      1. The Nature of Organizational Sensemaking

      2. Organizational Processes of Sensemaking

      3. Shared Minds: Consensus and Culture

      4. Towards a Cognitive Theory of the Firm

      5. Information Needs, Seeking and Use in Sensemaking

      6. Summary

  • Chapter 4 The Management of Learning: Organizations as Knowledge-creating Enterprises

      1. Data, Information, Knowledge

      2. Organizational Knowledge

      3. Tacit Knowledge

      4. Knowledge Creation

      5. Knowledge Transfer

      6. Knowledge Utilization

      7. Information Needs, Seeking and Use in Knowledge Creation

      8. Summary

  • Chapter 5 The Management of Uncertainty: Organizations as Decision-Making Systems

      1. Bounded Rationality

      2. Models of Organizational Decision Making

      3. Rational Model

      4. Process Model

      5. Political Model

      6. Anarchic Model

      7. Information Needs, Seeking and Use in Decision Making

      8. Summary

  • Chapter 6 A Tale of Two Accidents

      1. Space Shuttle Challenger (1986)

      2. Sensemaking in the Challenger Case

      3. Knowledge Creation in the Challenger Case

      4. Decision Making in the Challenger Launch

      5. Information Seeking and Use

      6. Space Shuttle Columbia (2003)

      7. Sensemaking in the Columbia Case

      8. Knowledge Creation in the Columbia Case

      9. Decision Making in the Columbia Launch

      10. Information Seeking and Use

      11. Summary

  • Chapter 7 Knowing and Learning in Organizations

      1. WHO Smallpox Eradication Program

      2. Models of Organizational Learning

      3. Learning in Groups and in Projects

      4. Implications for Practice

      5. Coda

      6. Summary

List of Case Studies

  • Knowledge Creation in the Matsushita Home Bakery project

  • Decision Making in Intel's exit from DRAM market

  • Discovery of Post-It notes at 3M

  • Scenario Planning at Royal Dutch/Shell Group

  • Enactment and Wine Production in California

  • Sensemaking in the Scottish Knitwear Industry

  • Sensemaking in Nantes Warehouse Fire "Toxic Cloud" Crisis

  • Organizational Culture at Peace Corps/Africa

  • Knowledge Creation at a large Management Consulting Practice

  • Knowledge Codification and Use of Numeric Control Machines in the Automobile Industry

  • Knowledge Creation in the Open Source Software Community

  • Knowledge Transfer in US Army's After Action Review and

  • Center for Army Lessons Learned

  • Knowledge Transfer in FordÕs Best Practice Replication

  • Knowledge Transfer in BP's Peer Assist

  • Knowledge Sharing in Buckman Labs

  • Cultural Knowledge in the GM-Toyota NUMMI Project

  • Community of Practice in a Medical Claims Processing Center

  • Community-based Knowledge Sharing in the Xerox Eureka Project

  • Decision Making in the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962)

  • Decision Making in the College Textbook Industry

  • Decision Making at the US National Institute of Education

  • Decision Escalation in the Expo 86 Project in Vancouver

  • Space Shuttle Challenger (1986)

  • Space Shuttle Columbia (2003)

  • WHO Smallpox Eradication Program

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