Inoculating Against The Productivity Paradox

Jason C. Morris, Portland State University

This project is only available to students, staff, and faculty of Portland State University


A disproportionate number of information technology (IT) initiatives during the 1980s and '90s failed to produce forecasted returns on investment (ROI) [16]. The typical cause for failure was a lack of organizational change accompanying the corresponding IT initiative. Most organizational changes happen in interconnected contexts composed of workers and managers called social networks. The literature clearly indicates that overlaying a dysfunctional social network with any IT initiative has, historically, a very high probability of failure. Most early studies sought causality in terms of technological dimensions [4-6,11,19]. However, these approaches overlooked the intangible aspects of human behavior as they affect knowledge transfer. Most researchers now agree that human behavior, not technology itself, is the key factor in determining how well knowledge is exchanged. Social network analysis has been effectively used to map the relationships between actors in a knowledge-sharing system [7,9,16,20-22,26,29,30]. It also has been utilized to identify impedances to knowledge-transfer. However, apparently not much attention has been paid to what actually drives the transfer of knowledge sufficiently to overcome that impedance. This paper establishes a link between social networks and the motivations of the actors within them to describe a sustainable model for indefinite knowledge transfer. The model also implies a simple prescription for avoiding productivity paradoxes within social networks of knowledge workers. These implications as well as suggestions for further study are also discussed.