Tag Archives: Knowledge Management

What is Knowledge Management?

20 Apr
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Steven Johnson, author of Where Good Ideas Come From, suggested that the main ingredient behind successful innovation was not a clever way of thinking or brainstorming. Instead, it was a place where people could share ideas, let them bump into each other, and in so doing, evolve into new, more powerful forms. The coffee-shops of Paris served this purpose during the Enlightenment, allowing for fantastic new scientific and philosophical concepts to be born.

The Japanese, during the 70s, applied this concept to businesses. How, they asked, does knowledge flow, and how can managers and business leaders help? Philosopher Ikujiro Nanaka and others developed a model of knowledge creation that captures all the ways knowledge moves and morphs within a network, and the one main technique that managers can use to encourage its development.

The SECI Model Explained

The model suggested by Nanaka’s team details the ways that knowledge changes hands and transforms. To begin, he divides knowledge into two types: Explicit Knowledge, which can be described with numbers, science, or manuals, and Tacit Knowledge, the emotional, difficult-to-describe variety. Both kinds of knowledge are necessary, both for everyday living and for business ventures. These two kinds of knowledge interact with four processes: Socialization, Externalization, Combination, and Internalization (SECI).

SECI Model displayed, socialization, externalization, combination, internalization, tacit and explicit knowledge

The SECI Model

Socialization

Socialization is the process where tacit knowledge it transmitted between people. Because tacit knowledge is rarely successfully expressed, socialization simply involves spending time with coworkers, enjoying their company and conversation until you learn how they think feel. You learn how they look at their tasks, their perspectives. It’s possible – and necessary – to do this with your customers, too. Those who are in a position to interact with the customers directly need to learn the skills needed to see how they think and feel, and through the other processes in the model, transmit that model to other parts of the organization.

Externalization

This process allows tacit knowledge to be morphed into explicit knowledge. Through interaction between an individual and other groups in the organization, the individual’s tacit knowledge is expressed through whatever terms are possible, such as metaphors and stories. Effective communication skills are a necessity; developing these and increasing opportunities for externalization are the main ways managers can encourage this process.

Combination

Through teams, or a creative individual, the explicit knowledge injected into the organization is transmuted through the process of Combination. Knowledge throughout the organization is collected and compiled into a more effective form of explicit knowledge, allowing the more refined forms to be distributed throughout the organization. An example would be a team in a tech firm whose job is to publish reports of successful products made throughout the company.

Internalization

Internalization is where the model comes full circle: as we started with an individual sharing tacit knowledge, it ends with the same individual converting the explicit knowledge supplied either by the firm or outside sources into personally applicable tacit knowledge. An HR official runs through this process when he reads the company’s training manual for conflict resolution, then puts it into practice. Internalization doesn’t just refer to an individual; the collective tacit knowledge of the organization is morphed from its explicit knowledge through internalization.

Ba and Encouraging Knowledge Flow

Now that we understand the main mechanisms whereby knowledge moves throughout an organization, the only piece missing is this: What are we, as managers, supposed to do about it? How can we apply this information? Here, we return with Nanako to the introduction of this article: a space that encourage the flow of ideas, that can allow all the SECI processes to occur. Nanako introduces a concept from Japanese, called Ba, which generally translates as “Place of _______.”

Ba or Tokoro, Kanji, Japanese Character

Ba: “Place of _______”

Ba, when applied to business, refers to the concept of having a place for knowledge processes to occur. This place can be physical, virtual, or mental (such as a shared perspective or set of values). Managers’ main purpose in knowledge management is to provide this Ba, and to tailor the characteristics of each Ba to the processes it’s meant to encourage. For example, if one is trying to encourage Socialization, it would be counterproductive to encourage virtual interaction. Why? Socialization requires face-to-face interaction, as the very act of an individual expressing his/her tacit knowledge transmutes it to explicit knowledge, making it Externalization instead of Socialization. Considerations such as these should become vital to a manager’s strategy.

Ba is a powerful tool, and regulated or not, it’s an integral component in a company’s culture. When underutilized, Ba will develop independent of a manager’s direction, and will likely be counterproductive to the company’s goals. However, when used properly, Ba can encourage the flow of ideas throughout an organization, and as such, allow for greater innovation and creativity. Enjoy, and good luck, Changemakers!

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Where in your workplace can you see Ba in action? How can you utilize Ba to help your company’s effectiveness?

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