Posts Tagged ‘ba’

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?

(Note that there are embedded links in this blog post. They show up as colored text. While pressing “Ctrl” click on any link to create a new tab to reach the websites pointed to.)

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Tacit-Group Processes in KM

March 14, 2009

Tacit-group processes and factors in the lower left quadrant in the expanded KM framework (see diagram below reproduced from the previous blog post) are often the weaknesses in KM initiatives.

Expanded KM framework at the planetary level

Expanded KM framework at the planetary level

The following are examples:

  • An e-group for knowledge sharing is set up, but knowledge sharing hardly occurs because the intended users hardly know and trust each other and do not share similar goals.
  • A knowledge fair organized by a vice president is hardly attended by staff under another vice president because of factionalism between the two vice presidents.
  • A know-it-all CEO shoots down new ideas, generating an organizational culture of anti-suggestion and anti-innovation.
  • Communication and productivity of a team suffered after an egotistical new member started to ruin the working relationships among the team members.
  • An organization-wide KM program was not fully accepted by all senior managers and started to falter; a mid-course evaluation by an outside consultant diagnosed the problem as lack of change management that should have accompanied the processes of design and roll-out of the KM program.

The lower-left quadrant is about TACIT-GROUP processes and factors: trust, shared goal or mutual agreement, unity (or factionalism), shared vision (e.g. Gaia consciousness), organizational culture, teamwork, mutual understanding of a group work process, general acceptance, etc. “Ba” of Ikujiro Nonaka belongs to this quadrant.

According to philosopher Ken Wilber’s integral framework, there are four types of knowledge. There are “Four Faces of Truth.”

Ken Wilber's "Four Faces of Truth"

Compare Ken Wilber’s integral framework with the expanded KM framework. The two frameworks are consistent (I wrote about this in a paper to be published by EADI/IKM).

Now, back to the importance of tacit-group processes. Without Gaia consciousness among earth’s inhabitants, I doubt how they can solve common problems such as the global environmental crisis. Ken Wilber said that resolution of this crisis lies in tacit-group processes:

    “Before we can even attempt an ecological healing, we must first reach a mutual understanding and mutual agreement among ourselves as to the best way to collectively proceed. In other words, the healing impulse comes from championing not functional fit but mutual understanding and interior qualitative distinctions. Anything short of that, no matter what the motives, perpetuates the fracture.”

Peter Senge summarized his best-seller book “The Fifth Discipline: the Art and Practice of the Learning Organization” by affirming the fundamental importance of tacit-group processes:

    “The central message of The Fifth Discipline is… that our organizations work the way they work, ultimately, because of how we think and how we interact.”

With apologies to Peter Senge, what is the message when we replace the word “organization” with “planetary society”?

    The central message of The Fifth Discipline is… that our planetary society works the way it works, ultimately, because of how we think and how we interact.

Is ours a “learning planetary society”? If not, are we getting there?

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Q4- How Toyota Beat(?) GM in Sensing Customer Needs

January 12, 2009

“Quality” in “Quality Management” or QM has a specific meaning in the business sector. Quality of a service or product is what satisfies a customer, and makes him or her want to buy the service or product again, or even recommend it to others. We saw in the previous blog Q3 (“The Customer is King”; But the King is Blind!?) that “the customer is king” (or queen). Customer satisfaction is paramount in business for it means more sales and revenue growth or in short, value creation. It drives everything from the micro (e.g. business process improvement, Six Sigma, Lean Production and other QM tools) to the macro (e.g. the market economy).

The QM cause-and-effect chain goes like this:

      Continuous improvement of business process => high quality service or product => satisfied customers => more sales => greater value creation

The purpose of Six Sigma (a popular QM tool invented by Motorola) is to reduce occurrence of the following chain by identifying and correcting the cause(s):

      Cause(s) => a characteristic of a service/product deviates from standard => dissatisfied customers => less repeat customers

Another popular QM tool, Lean Production invented by Toyota Motors, looks into greater detail at customer preferences:

Before using Lean principles:

      Expenditure to produce a feature of a product/service => the customer is not excited about the feature (non-value adding) => customer buys the product/service anyway because he/she likes the rest of the product

Using Lean principles:

      Identify unwanted feature (“muda” or waste or non-value adding) => stop producing the feature => LEANER production and lower price of product/service => customer buys the product/service at lower price => customer is happier => more sales revenues, outsell higher-priced competition => lower production cost => higher net revenues overall

Now you see an important secret why Toyota almost wiped out American car manufacturers like Ford and GM! Well, the secret was discovered later by Toyota competitors and now Lean Production is used all over the world.

It is about doing a better job of sensing customer needs. It is about knowing intimately how the customer sees and values things. It is taking the customer’s perspective. The Japanese word “muda” is often translated into English as “waste” but something is lost in translation. “Muda” is not factory waste, for example. Muda is waste from the customer’s perspective; it is any part or feature in a product that does not add value to the customer.

Another often misunderstood Japanese word in KM is “ba” popularized by KM guru Ikujiro Nonaka. For example, “customer ba” is the interpersonal space shared between the customer and seller that facilitates communication of knowledge, meanings and values. In Tagalog we have a word “suki” which is the special relationship developed over many years between a buyer and a seller who have come to trust one another. The closest Western term I can find is “container” for dialogue used by Peter Senge and William Isaacs. When trainors re-arrange chairs to facilitate workshops they are trying to create “ba.” The “Knowledge Hallway” of Price WaterhouseCoopers is a similar example – where office layout, furniture and spaces are arranged to facilitate interaction and knowledge sharing.

Wars and conflicts is the end result of a grand-scale failure to communicate and understand each other’s meanings and values. In my opinion, “ba” can lead us to a solution for people to better sense each other’s meanings and values. If only we see the value of sensing the meaning and values of our “enemies” the same way some Japanese companies do “customer ba” then the world, in my opinion, could be a far more peaceful world.

What is your opinion?


Five months after I posted this blog, faculty members of the Harvard Business School contributed to an article entitled “GM: What Went Wrong and What’s Next”. Here are some excerpts:

    “…management’s consistent failure to… pay close attention to what is happening to consumers’ lives in the context of the larger environment…” — Nancy F. Koehn, James E. Robison Professor of Business Administration

    “GM will be left with engineering competencies almost exclusively in those same large vehicles likely to be made obsolete by a new 35.5 MPG standard the Administration has promised to implement by 2016.” — Daniel Snow, Assistant Professor of Business Administration

    “Did the [GM] marketers not see what Toyota was doing with the Camry and Lexus?” — Joseph L. Bower, Baker Foundation Professor of Business Administration

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