Keywords: technical communication, scientific communication, technology transfer, technology management, organisational structure, physical location, knowledge dissemination, Bell Telephone Laboratories
Combining organisational and physical location to manage knowledge dissemination
As the physical distance between engineers' workstations increases, the probability that they will communicate regularly decreases rapidly. As with many things in nature, this probability declines as the inverse square of distance. At the same time, it must be remembered that while separation decreases the probability of communication, even very close physical proximity does not guarantee communication. Although engineers are more likely to communicate if closer together, the probability remains low in the absence of other relations. Unless people have a reason to communicate frequently about technical issues they will not do so, even over very short distances. When that reason exists, as for example when engineers or scientists share the department or project team membership, their chances of communicating regularly can increase substantially. At this point, we bring together the use of organisational structure and architecture and test the sensitivity of communication to varying positions in physical and organisational space. Results are presented from two very different organisations showing how communication probability varies with different degrees of physical and organisational separation. Finally, we reflect back on the 27-year-old work of Jack Morton, then Executive Vice President of Bell Telephone Laboratories, and show how he anticipated all of our research results long before the research was undertaken.