Organizational Learning and the Technology of Foolishness: The Case of Virtual Worlds at IBM

  • Dodgson M
  • Gann D
  • Phillips N
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In this paper, we examine how and why organizational learning is affected by virtualization technologies. The literature on organizational learning has identified its many constraints, and the influence of information technologies on overcoming these restraints has also received attention. Little research, however, has addressed how organizational learning is affected by a new type of technology associated with "virtuality": the characterization of people, objects, and processes by digital representations, providing enhanced opportunities for the interpersonal and organizational interactivity and engagement that stimulates organizational learning. We present an exploratory case study of the engagement with, and use of, virtual worlds at IBM, a leading user of this virtualization technology. Virtual worlds are associated with games; we explore their use in the novel conduct of social interactions in meetings, rehearsals, and brainstorming, and we argue that organizational learning results from forms of play. We explain how such a playful, game-like technology came to be accepted in a serious for-profit science and engineering organization through a process we refer to as convergent recognition. We find organizational learning results from the interrelated processes behind the adoption of the technology and its application. By reference to the distinction between technologies of rationality and foolishness, we theorize how their reconciliation occurs through the mutually reinforcing ways organizations learn to engage with and use new technologies. © 2013 INFORMS.

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  • Mark Dodgson

  • David M. Gann

  • Nelson Phillips

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