Posts Tagged ‘Nonaka’

T0-2 Starting a New KM Language in Your Organization

October 13, 2009

Starting KM in your organization also means starting to learn a new KM language among your members. A simple tool towards this end is an FAQ on KM (FAQ=frequently asked questions) which can be circulated among members or placed in the KM webpage in your intranet.

Download CCLFI’s FAQ on KM by pressing “Ctrl” while clicking HERE. The FAQ will appear in a new browser tab.

wordle of FAQ

Thanks to Wordle for the above “word cloud” of the FAQ

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Can We Manage Knowledge? (A Practice in Listening)

June 9, 2009

A lively discussion is now going on after I opened a new page on “Will KM Disappear?” and posted it too in the Linkedin group “Knowledge Management Experts” (to read the comments, click that page on the panel to the right or click HERE).

Some are saying that we cannot really manage knowledge. Others are saying we have been doing it all the time. I have my own views but I wanted to listen and learn (see my previous blog post on Listening) and really understand the thinking behind the comments posted. Why are the views so widely divergent? What does each commentor mean?

I think we need to be clear and precise what our referents are when we say the words “manage” and “knowledge”. Otherwise, confusion and fruitless debates will follow. Some say that labels are unimportant and let us just get on with the work. In this particular instance, we need precision of communication. In a work team, unclear labels will lead to communication gaps and then to performance gaps.

First, note that people do not talk about “managing an idea or concept”. Rather, they talk about “managing a process” involving ideas and concepts. Similarly, some are sceptical of the term “managing knowledge” but instead say “managing knowledge processes”. Nonaka prefers the term “knowledge-based management” instead of “knowledge management” (read Nonaka’s talk in Bangkok last January 2007).

Accordingly in the table below I detailed a range of knowledge processes that we actually refer to when we say we “manage knowledge”.


deconstructing the phrase managing knowledge

From the above deconstruction of the phrase “managing knowledge” we can better —

  • Understand why some KM practitioners say that only explicit knowledge (or “knowledge artifacts” or “knowledge objects”) can be managed, and insist that tacit knowledge of employees cannot be directly managed (by managers and executives);
  • Understand why other KM practitioners who equate KM solely with organizational KM will say that mankind has been managing knowledge all the time (even before the term KM was invented) and will equally insist that asking whether knowledge can or cannot be managed is asking a silly question;
  • Understand why KM practitioners who include also personal knowledge processes in KM will say that managers and executives cannot really manage knowledge in employees; they will also insist that managers and executives can only facilitate, support, motivate or incentivize the knowledge and learning processes going on inside the heads (and hearts) of their employees;
  • Understand how the above (often unstated or unconscious) differences in referents inside the heads KM practitioners (who are all well-intentioned) set up or predispose them towards miscommunication and fruitless debate (I wrote this blog post to avoid this); and
  • Understand why change management and similar behavioral tools — which address personal knowledge processes (nearer the bottom of the table) — must often accompany KM.

Here is my 2 cents worth:

The most important knowledge process in the above table is knowledge use/application/practice (the bottom one in red text). There are only two value-creating steps in the knowledge cycle, and knowledge use/application/practice is one of them. If this step is missing or faulty, all other knowledge processes would amount to useless expenditures. Since this value-creating step is affected most heavily by personal factors, KM must include “personal KM” or personal knowledge processes in its scope of concern and therefore also scope of definition.

Therefore, personal KM cannot be optional because personal knowledge processes in each employee are at the foundation of effective organizational KM.

What do you think?

(My thanks to Fernando Goldman, Skip Boettger, Jim Coogan, Harold Jarche, Douglas Weidner and John Tropea for their comments, which made me think this issue through.)

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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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Appreciating Nonaka’s SECI Model (#23)

May 13, 2009

Let us review the four critical tasks of a learning organization (numbers 1-4 refer to the figure below):

  1. Build those tacit knowledge in workers that contribute most to value creation;
  2. Convert useful tacit knowledge into explicit forms that are easier to reproduce, replicate and reuse; this explicit knowledge is collected in an organized fashion into a knowledge repository or Organizational Brain;
  3. Provide the right explicit knowledge to be reused or practiced by the right knowledge workers; if substantial volumes of explicit knowledge have been collected, it becomes possible to recombine, digest, analyze, correlate and otherwise “mine” the collection to generate new insights and conclusions that are actionable;
  4. Procure needed expertise or knowledge from outside.

4 critical tasks in a learning organization

The tasks revolve around the green quadrant because (a) it is the quadrant where most value creation takes place, and (b) most of the knowledge in an organization is located in the green quadrant.

According to Laura Birou, only 10-20 percent of an organization’s knowledge is explicit. Robert H. Buckman of Buckman Laboratories estimates this fraction at only 10 percent. William H. Baker Jr. estimates it at 20 percent. Furthermore, not all of this explicit knowledge is captured in the organizations’ IT-based information systems. What IT does well is facilitate the replication and transmission of explicit knowledge so that more knowledge workers can use/practice them, convert them to their tacit knowledge, and create value for the organization.

Notice that the well-known SECI model of Nonaka addresses all four critical tasks of a learning organization:

  1. Socialization: tacit-to-tacit knowledge transfer from expert to learner
  2. Externalization: conversion to explicit group knowledge
  3. Combination: combining new explicit knowledge with other existing explict knowledge
  4. Internalization: conversion back to individual tacit knowledge

Nonaka SECI model

The SECI model is not the only mix of knowledge pathways that performs the four critical tasks. In the previous blog post, notice that the Case Study 3 organization also addresses all four critical tasks of a learning organization. The mixes of knowledge pathways do vary from organization to organization.

In Case Study 3, the explicit group knowledge is in the form of a Learning-Oriented Systems Manual (=organizational brain), which at this point in time is not yet web-based. This illustrates the fact that although information technology can be an excellent enabler, it is not an absolute necessity for a learning organization.

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Four Types of Memory

May 7, 2009


Ken Wilber pointed out that there are four fundamentally distinct types of knowledge, which he calls the “Four Faces of Truth”. Based on his framework (see previous blog on “KM and Trans-Societal Megatrend #1 and “Tacit-Group Processes in KM”), we therefore see four types of memory:


Transactive memory is what a team informally develops among themselves after working closely together over time. The team informally develops a group tacit knowledge of “who knows what,” “who knows who,” “who does what best,” “who cannot do what,” “how team member A thinks,” etc. This transactive memory is lost to a team member who leaves and joins a new team.

Collective unconscious is Carl Jung’s term to refer to the accumulated experiences and memories of mankind. The collective “national pain body” and “racial pain body,” according to Eckhart Tolle, are accumulated memories of violence and suffering that underlie the consciousness and behavior of a group.

I have written about the “Organizational Brain” in my Overview chapter in the book “Knowledge Management in Asia: Experience and Lessons” published in 2008 by the Asian Productivity Organization, Tokyo, Japan. If you wish to receive a copy of this chapter, send me an email. In this book I used the descriptors “embodied knowledge,” “embedded knowledge” and introduced the new term “enculturated knowledge” for human capital, structural capital and relationship capital, respectively. In parallel, we can use the descriptors “embodied memory,” “embedded memory,” and “enculturated memory.”


In the next blog, I will use Ken Wilber’s framework to delineate important knowledge pathways in a learning organization, and provide a way to understand the specific knowledge pathway called the SECI model of Nonaka.

Thanks to for the free use of a clip art. (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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Q21- Rediscovering a Core(?) of Human Capital: “Sophia”

March 26, 2009

In July 2006 one of the modules in a KM workshop CCLFI facilitated for top executives of a mining company in Mongolia was on “Mining Tacit Knowledge.” The workshop participants were the two senior VPs, all the VPs and senior directors.

We invited three managers who are known in the company to be excellent motivators. One of the them was the CEO. We arranged an informal setting where the three, sitting comfortably in sofas facing the participants, were asked to tell their stories on “How I motivate my people.” A Mongolian lady served as my interpreter in the course.

As their stories unfolded, I could see how interested and engaged were all the participants. The stories showed vignettes of their difficulties and victories in motivating their subordinates. From the faces of the participants and their responses (interpreted for me) the process was obviously a moving experience for everyone. At some point I asked my lady interpreter to stop and we just listened and allowed the interaction to proceed without the interruptions when she interprets for me. It was such a solemn deeply-felt group experience that the CEO later asked, “Has my management team changed so much after one workshop?”

In January 2007 I personally met Prof. Ikujiro Nonaka. I served as Conference Rapporteur and Editor of conference proceedings for the International Productivity Conference 2007: From Brain to Business sponsored by the Asian Productivity Organization. He read a paper on “Strategy as Distributed Phronesis: Knowledge Creation for the Common Good.” He introduced a new term “phronesis” and defined it as “the virtuous habit of making decisions and taking action that serves the common good, the capability to find a “right answer in a particular context.” He added that phronesis is “practical wisdom or prudence” or the experiential knowledge to make context-specific decisions based on one’s own value or ethics (high-quality tacit knowledge).”


In 2002, CCLFI documented best practices for UNDP in sustainable community development. Our first intention was to produce a manual or “How To” booklets (structural capital), but we discovered that manualization is not enough. The success of a sustainable community development project is also attributable to a talents of the community leader who ran the project. Now, how do one capture those talents in a document? We produced “vignettes” to accompany the “How To” manuals. A vignette consists quotations and pictures of the community leader as he or she tells stories about the project. The vignette shows glimpses or snipets of the leader’s character (human capital) that contributed to project success. We also shot videos. We invited ten of the best practitioners to a face-to-face Lessons Learned Meeting (LLM) where together they shared their stories, compared notes and learned from each other.

When you meet a best practitioner-leader of a successful sustainable community development project you notice immediately that he or she has “it” — that mix of qualities I can describe as a compelling sense of purpose, quietly inspirational, a “can do” attitude that is infectious, humble but strong in will, a deep kind of reflectiveness that shows in how he or she views the world and the people in it and a persona that naturally motivates people. It is a mix of intrapersonal and interpersonal qualities. We at CCLFI chose the term “sophia” to denote this mix of core personal qualities of a successful community leader.

From our expanded KM framework, I believe that the above stories are touching on a core of human capital and relationship capital where these two forms of capital intersect motivational factors. It consists of an inner drive or enthusiasm (an intrapersonal quality) and an ability to lead or motivate (an interpersonal quality).


Have you encountered a similar experience with exceptional leaders? Tell us about it.

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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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Q7- We Found the Enemy: Our Own Concepts!?

January 19, 2009

Let us do a thought experiment (Gedanken Experiment).

      One day, I visited a forest. With me are four friends: an entomologist, a logger, a civil engineer and an ethnographer. The entomologist proceeded to examine many varieties of insects hiding in the cracks of trees’ barks and underneath fallen leaves. He starts to tell everyone stories about each kind of insect he discovers. The logger is not listening because he was busy mentally estimating the commercial volume and market value of a tree in front of him based on its diameter-at-breast-height. He was also estimating the timber density of this forest. The civil engineer was looking elsewhere: at the elevation, slopes and the flow rate and drop of a nearby small waterfall. He wanted to estimate how many kilowatts a micro-hydro power generator can produce from the waterfall. The ethnographer was a bit disappointed. She could not find anything interesting in the forest so she just observed the behavior of her companions and asked them a few questions.

What is happening here? The entomologist, logger, civil engineer and ethnographer are each seeing different things. Their individual academic trainings, experiences and habits are boxing in how they see the world around them. They see only their own familiar SLICES of the real world. No one is looking at the entire forest!

In the previous blogpost(Q6- KM for development: a triple(?) bottom line?), I have no doubt the Philippine Government and the World Bank hired the best engineers. The engineers who conceived and designed the Chico River Dam project where doing their darn best. But engineers are not trained in sociology or cultural anthropology or ecology. They were trained well to look elsewhere. So they missed and failed to anticipate social and cultural costs of the project. The engineers, the Philippine Government, the World Bank, the soldiers sent to the area by the Philippine Government, etc. were not our enemies. Our common enemy was the wrong development model or the purely engineering framework (a SINGLE-SLICE framework) for viewing a hydroelectric power plant project.

Every one of us is making choices we think are best for the situation we are in, given our individual worldviews and value systems. Don’t you think so? Do you agree that the Hamas, given their viewpoints and values, are making decisions they think are the best? Do you also agree that the Israeli cabinet, given their viewpoints and values, are making decisions they think are the best?

After 178 nations learned and woke up from the terrible costs of development disasters, and adopted the principle of sustainable development, they are also making decisions they think are best or at least better than those based on earlier development models. Sustainable development is a THREE-SLICE framework (see Q6- KM for development: a triple? bottom line). So now, sixteen years after the Rio Summit, sustainable development has become the mainstream development model. With sustainable development, have we finally vanquished our enemy, namely, wrong or incomplete development framework?

Wait. Let us not quickly jump to the conclusion that we have found THE final solution. In blogpost F15 (“Our Development Concepts may be THE Problem”), I showed data hinting at the possibility that even sustainable development may not be THE perfect development model. So our real enemy may be OUR OWN cherished beliefs about development.

Please allow me to repeat what I said in the introduction to this Q Series.

In the movie “Men in Black,” Kay (played by Tommy Lee Jones) told Jay (played by Will Smith):

      “Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.”

Our beliefs about the world keep changing. Chances are, our beliefs today are not final; something better will be discovered in the future. KM guru Ikujiro Nonaka defined “knowledge” as “justified belief that increases an entity’s capacity for effective action.” And so, our knowledge is exactly that: beliefs. Tomorrow, better beliefs or assumptions can replace our current beliefs if the former justifiably work better or they help us produce the results we say we want. So, we should not get stuck in “right-and-wrong” thinking or “I-am-always-right” thinking, but try to replace it with “what-could-work-better” thinking.

Peter Senge said that in a truly learning organization, members are skilled in being aware, in re-examining or testing and if needed, in revising their mental models (=assumptions or beliefs).

I wonder, what could be the development model 100 years from now? 1000 years from now? (assuming the human race is still around).

What belief could be the common enemy of Hamas and Israel? What belief could work better?

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