Posts Tagged ‘koan’

Left Brainers and Nonaka’s “Ba”

May 25, 2009

My friend and colleague Joitske Hulsebosch of Netherlands commented today on the previous blog:

    “Hi Serafin, very interesting. Did you hear about Daniel Pink? He wrote about the left-brainers ruling the western world, but thinks it is time for right-brainers now. Though he writes from a western perspective, it is interesting to see him explain both sides of the brain.”

I promptly called my favorite bookstore in Quezon City and they are readying a copy of Daniel H. Pink’s “A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future” for me to pick up this Friday. (Thank you Joitske!) According to author Daniel H. Pink’s website, the main argument in his book is that “the era of ‘left brain’ dominance, and the Information Age that it engendered, are giving way to a new world in which ‘right brain’ qualities — inventiveness, empathy, meaning — predominate.”

In 1981 Dr. Roger W. Sperry won the Nobel Prize for discovering that the left and right hemispheres of our brain think differently:

left and right brain

Left brainers (or people whose left brain is overdeveloped while their right brain is underdeveloped) tend to go for engineering, computer science, information technology and mathematics. Right brainers tend to go for creative and entrepreneurial activities, designing, relationship building, strategic sensing and pursuit of adventure. In knowledge management, KM guru Karl Erik Sveiby observed that KM practitioners either adopt the “technology side” of KM or its “people side”. Left brainers are best in using IT for KM, but they tend to misunderstand the more tacit aspects of KM such as KM guru Ikujiro Nonaka’s “ba” and SECI model. I have read many criticisms of Nonaka that reveal to me more about the mindset of the critic than about what Nonaka is writing about.

“Ba” is the communication and interpersonal space built and nurtured between two or more people; it is characterized by trust, empathy and shared meanings. Practice of “ba” belongs to the indigo quadrant. It is an area of practice that right brainers are good at.

Remember that for centuries, the Japanese have been creating and transfering tacit knowledge from master to pupil through their traditional “iemoto.” Japanese iemoto schools have produced great masters in tacit knowledge of kendo, kabuki, ikebana (flower arrangement), chanoyu (tea ceremony) or chado (way of the tea), yakimono (pottery), sumo wrestling, Zen practice, Noh (a drama form), etc.

An example of a tool that helps a person shift from left-brain thinking to right-brain thinking is the “koan” in Zen Buddhism. Koan is another Japanese innovation. A koan usually takes the form of a question or riddle that quickly befuddles the left brain and thereby exposes the very limitations of the left brain to itself.

An example of a koan is: “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!”

What are your thoughts upon reading this koan? What do those thoughts tell you about how your mind usually works?

A left-brainer trying to understand this koan is like a left-brain KM practitioner criticizing Nonaka’s “ba”. After Googling, here are some actual examples of left-brain explanations I found in the Internet:

    “A logical interpretation of ‘kill him’ is ‘cease to cling to his footsteps if you wish to match his wisdom,’ but I would never claim that this is what the passage means.”

    “I think that this is saying that if you meet the Buddha by the road (an actual road, i.e., a man preaching where there are people), he probably isn’t the real Buddha.”

    “…you do have to ‘kill’ your master to surpass him.”

Those remarks reveal the left-brain empirical orientations of the writers.

Let me attempt at one answer that illustrates the point I wrote about in my previous blog:

    “Buddhist” literally means “internalist” because the aim in Buddhist practice is for YOU to attain the INTERNAL state of Buddhahood or enlightenment. Hence, you don’t look for the Buddha on the road or anywhere outside of yourself; you discover the Buddha WITHIN you. You don’t walk and look around; you WAKE UP to a larger reality. What the koan is saying is that you should “kill” the very idea of trying to meet the Buddha on the road (or anywhere outside yourself). That idea is an obstacle to your growth; get rid of it.

How about you; what is your answer to the koan?

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