Archive for Definitions

SECI & ‘Ba’ Frameworks – Misunderstood

From Nonaka & Konno 1998


In order to understand the SECI framework one needs to read these articles and book written by Ikujiro Nonaka and his collaborators.  The SECI model is very easy to mis-interpret.  Simply put, Nonaka and his collaborators intent was to explain why and how Japanese companies were so successful in creating innovative products and fostering creative ideas in the workplace.  It seems to me that too much of time people believe they were developing theoritical frameworks which I don’t think was their purpose.

  1. The Knowledge-Creating Company, Ikujiro Nonaka, Harvard Business Review, 1991 and reprinted in 2007.
  2. The Knowledge-Creating Company: How Japanese Companies Create the Dynamics of Innovation, Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi, Oxford University Press, 1995.
  3. The concept of “Ba”: Building a foundation for knowledge creation,  Ikujiro Nonaka and Noboru Konno, California Management Review, Spring 1998.

In 1991 Nonaka described the ‘knowledge spiral’ with copious examples from innovative Japanese firms: Sharp, Honda, Matsushita, Canon.  He did not use the now famous model/diagram but he did define tacit and explicit knowledge and describe the 4 knowledge transfer processes: tacit-to-tacit, tacit-explicit, explicit-to-tacit, and explicit-to-explicit.  This is not an academic theory.  It is an explanatory framework to describe what can be observed in these companies.  The “knowledge spiral” is actually not the primary focus of the article.  The focus is the importance of motivating employees, the use of metaphor, analogy and models and the interaction of front-line employees, middle-management and senior management.  The central role of the middle manager is high-lighted as vital for the knowledge-creating company.   The importance of redundancy in an organization to allow employees to have the freedom to innovate and the time to explore is vital for the knowledge creating company.

In 1995 Nonaka and Takeuchi used the SECI model for the first time in an English language publication.  The model has been used over and over and modified by many different knowledge management practitioners.  It is unfortunate that people don’t stick to the original model.  The purpose of this book is to explain how Japanese companies are different from western companies and how this leads them to more innovative.  Is this true?  I’m not sure, but I am confident that this is the overlying purpose of the book as is explained on the very first page, ‘we make the claim that Japanese companies have been successful because of their skills and expertise at ‘organizational knowledge creation’.  They are more successful because they approach business from a philosophically different way from western corporations which vastly improves a Japanese companies ‘organizational knowledge creation’ processes.

From Nonaka & Konno 1998

From Nonaka & Konno 1998

In 1998 Nonaka and Koona expanded the SECI framework with the concept of ‘Ba’, 場、ば。 See the diagram.  I think this really pulls the whole SECI framework together but it is not discussed much in KM literature.  I suspect because it is too mystical for most westerners.

1.  Originating ‘Ba’ – emerging care, love, trust, and commitment.  Corresponds to Socialization in the SECI model.

2.  Interacting ‘Ba’ – depends on sharing mental models and being aware of one’s own mental model, extensive dialogue between peers, extensive use of metaphors to enhance understanding.  Corresponds to Externalization in the SECI model.

3. Cyber ‘Ba’ – a place of interaction in a virtual world instead of real space and time.  Corresponds to Combination in the SECI model.

4.  Exercising ‘Ba’ – facilitates the conversion of explicit knowledge to tacit knowledge.  It depends upon learning through action in many cases.  Corresponds to Internalization in the SECI model.

Five dimensions of care need to take place for ‘Ba’ to exist in a network.  All of these dimensions relate closely to the giving and receiving of trust between individuals and groups.

  • Mutual trust – trust compensates for the lack of knowledge we have about others.  Trust is reciprocal.
  • Active empathy – creates a basis to assess and understand what someone else needs.
  • Access to Help – care must encompass real and tangible help.
  • Lenience in judgment – failure must not be punished, experimentation need to be encouraged not corrected too quickly when it appears to be a mistake, failure must be allowed so that people will learn from errors.
  • Courage – seniors must let juniors experiment, juniors must reveal their work and ideas, everyone must give their opinion and feedback.

More than anything, ‘Ba’ is a network of interactions, determined by the care and trust of participants.  Without trust and care ‘Ba’ cannot exist in organizations.  Although this may sound rather mystical and vague, the same general themes are echoed time and time again in knowledge management discussions on the basis of trust in networks, organizations and communities.

The SECI and ‘Ba’ frameworks are similar to anthropological models developed to explain why a group behaves in a certain way or why a kinship system is in place for the group.  Can the SECI and ‘Ba’ frameworks be realistically applied outside of the Japanese corporation?  I believe they can but they need a significant amount of careful nurturing in order to become accepted and utilized in another culture.  Interestingly, I just read that the US government’s recent ‘cash-for-clunkers’ program to get US car-buyers to replace old automobiles was a huge success for Toyota.   More US car-buyers bought new US made Toyota’s than any other automobile with their government subsidy.

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Blogs and Wikis – confusion reigns

A few months back I went to a KMRC event in Hong Kong atteneded by a cross section of government agencies, NGOs and private companies.  Most of the attendees had taken the time to prepare a brief presentation on what sort of KM activities they were doing.  It was really interesting that many groups confused blogs and wikis.   Being able to post to a shared location was understood to be both a blog and a wiki.  Also, most everyone thought a wiki had to be wide open to everyone in the organisation.

Just for my record, a blog is for me a place where a person or a small group of people who speak as a group, keep a rolling diary of views, events, how-to, links and so on.  A blog is a public diary.

Just for my record, a wiki is a shared collaboration site.  It can be shared among a large group or a very small group.  The Wikipedia is the ultimate example of collaborative site shared among a large group.  However, many wikis are just for a few people to collaborate on a project, event or process.

The difference is significant.  A wiki is about group collaboration.  A blog is about sharing knowledge.

Take a look at Stewart Mader’s Future Changes blog for excellent resources on wiki development.

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A good KM definition from Patrick Lambe’s Green Chameleon Blog

“Knowledge management is simply an attempt to alleviate some of the problems of access, confusion, poor control and poor use of knowledge and information resources in the face of increasing complexity.” (P. Lambe, 2003)

This is a succinct definition that touches on the two key aspects of KM; difficulty in finding and multiple paths to resources.  Technology has not made these appear but has made them much more prevalent and worse.   KM is trying to use organizaitonal behavior with some technology to improve the situtation.

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