Knowledge management is a critical aspect that is greatly considered by individuals working in organisations and whose roles mainly entail the gathering of information, documents, as well as professional experiences and general understanding at the corporate level.
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Nonaka and Takeuchi have contributed immensely towards the understanding of this area, providing contributions to help in the understanding of the dynamic character of knowledge creation together with the management of related processes effectively (Glisby & Holden, 2003, p. 29).
The particular models by these gurus involve a combination of a continuous process that eventually leads to knowledge creation. This paper seeks to evaluate the two models proposed by the two experts, the SECI model and the “Ba” model, also known as the Shared Context of Knowledge Creation model (Choo & Neto, 2010, p. 592).
The evaluation is done mainly by critiquing, comparing, and drawing contrasts of the models. The paper also highlights a realistic example about how one of the models is implemented in the industry for the purposes of knowledge management.
The SECI Model
The SECI model, which means Socialisation, Externalisation, Combination, and Internationalisation, was proposed jointly by Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirakata Takeuvuchi.
It suggests that knowledge is created through four significant steps of sharing and creating, articulation, systemising and applying, as well as learning and acquiring (Li & Gao, 2003, p. 6). Thus, according to this model, the sharing and creation of tacit or unstated knowledge occurs by direct experience. People gain knowledge from each other as they socialise or interact directly.
The externalisation or articulation of the tacit knowledge occurs by way of dialogue, as well as reflection. As people communicate with each other, their tacit knowledge is comprehended by others. In this case, their tacit knowledge transforms into what is regarded as explicit or unambiguous knowledge (Nonaka, & Toyama, 2003, p. 2).
On the other hand, combination occurs after externalisation, where outside information and knowledge are combined in a systematic way before being applied in the organisation. Finally, the internalisation stage refers to the actual learning. In other words, it means that the knowledge already acquired is being transformed into plain knowledge (Bratianu & Orzea, 2010, p. 41).
Nonaka’s idea of categorising knowledge as either tacit or explicit equally contributes towards explaining the effectiveness of the SECI model further. In a bid to differentiate between the two, Nonaka speaks about tacit knowledge as being highly personal and difficult to personalise.
Therefore, inasmuch as tacit knowledge may remain contained in an individual’s brain, it is very difficult for the person to share or describe it to others (Song, Uhm, & Yoon, 2011, p. 243). He, on the other hand, describes explicit knowledge as representing the rational content of an individual’s knowledge. Unlike tacit knowledge, explicit knowledge is easily explainable and expressible. The actual conversion of knowledge from tacit to explicit is what creates organisational knowledge.
Nonaka only ends up blurring the distinction between groups and individuals by assuming that knowledge dynamics are explainable in four basic processes, including socialisation, externalisation, together with combination and internalisation.
Converting knowledge from tacit to explicit form is a process that takes place within an individual, at least according to epistemology. In other words, Nonaka’s explanation to the effect that the process is developed between a particular person’s tacit knowledge and another’s explicit knowledge is meaningless.
It is only possible for knowledge conversion to occur either from tacit to tacit or explicit to explicit between two individuals (Bratianu, 2010, p. 195). If the model’s explanation would consider only two people, then it would be more understandable.
However, as per the model’s explanation, it appears Nonaka is also considering groups or teams in the organisation in his explanation, thereby making it difficult to demonstrate or explain the concept. As Bratianu (2010, p. 195) points out, the main challenge here is the sequential interplay that exists between group processes, on the one hand, and the strictly individual processes, on the other hand.
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According to Bereiter (2002, p. 176), the SECI model bases its ideas and general foundation on folk epistemology, which considers individual minds as having unformed knowledge. Thus, according to Nonaka, this unformed knowledge needs to be projected into the external world.
However, in the real sense, this approach as seems to be suggested by Nonaka hinders any endeavour to offer a model or theory about knowledge creation. Bereiter (2002, p. 176), therefore, argues strongly against the theory, particularly owing to its failure to be relied upon in business as a theory, as well as a practical concept.
From a personal standpoint, having considered Nonaka’s proposal regarding knowledge conversion, it is evident that it misses a point on practicality in the real sense. For instance, he argues that knowledge conversion starts with socialisation; that is, tacit acquirement of unstated knowledge of individuals who lack it from those who have it (Holden & Von Kortzfleisch, 2004, p. 127).
Conversely, there is the practicality of the knowledge that is possessed by individuals in a firm. This knowledge is ingrained in the individuals’ bodies. It is involved in a certain environment. In essence, it is unrealistic to state when individuals are asked to illustrate how they undertake their activities. It is often difficult for anybody to suggest or explain it in words.
Another setback in the SECI prototype is that it does not encompass cultural issues. Nonaka has failed to discuss the manner in which knowledge conversion can be undertaken in a team or an organisation with cultural diversity in detail.
It is prudent to point out that very few organisations in today’s world have homogeneity. Many organisations are including people drawn from different backgrounds and cultures and based on their experience and education to achieve a competitive edge in a world that is highly competitive (Holden & Von Kortzfleisch, 2004).
The “Ba” Model (Shared Context of Knowledge Creation)
Professor Nonaka further developed the ‘Ba” model, which was initially proposed by other philosophers from Japan. This theory is founded on the thought that ba is a shared space that offers knowledge creation foundation (Nonaka, Toyama, & Byosiere, 2001, p. 499). The shared space in this scenario could mean an office, a virtual platform such as an email or teleconferencing, as well as mental aspects such as ideas and experiences. It could also extend to imply a combination of the two aspects.
There are 4 types of “Ba” that are synonymous to the 4 aspects that form the SECI model. Collectively, the four types of ba provide a basis upon which particular steps can take place within the process of knowledge spiral. Every “ba” is meant to oversee a given conversion process. This, eventually, accelerates the process of formulating knowledge. Nonaka’s proposal of the four Ba’s includes the originating Ba, Interacting Ba, Cyber Ba, as well as Exercising Ba.
According to their definition of Ba, Nonaka, Toyama, and Byosiere (2001, p. 499) consider it as a perspective whereupon the sharing of knowledge occurs. Further, they also consider it as a perspective for creating and putting the information into use, with the main basis of the model being the fact that knowledge has to rely on a context for it to exist.
However, this definition contradicts the whole idea of the model’s description because it suggests that the knowledge being referenced relates strongly to a particular cultural context, as well as a given material. It goes beyond the consideration of knowledge being a personal belief as has been proposed earlier on.
The argument that a person’s knowledge can be shared is a source of criticism against the model. This mainly happens in the case where one is involved in Ba. Nonaka, Toyama, and Byosiere (2001, p. 499) create an even bigger ambiguity when they refer to Ba as an interface, implying that Ba is no longer a physical space as had been suggested earlier. It also does not refer anymore to people having knowledge. Instead, the description portrays it as knowledge in its own standing.
Comparison of SECI and “Ba” Models
Both SECI and ‘Ba’ models suggest four aspects that correspond to each other. The Socialisation in SECI model is represented by the Originating ‘Ba’, which implies love, emerging care, commitment, and trust.
The second mode in SECI model, Externalisation, is represented by the Interacting ‘Ba’ in the Ba model. It reflects the sharing of, as well as being aware of the mental models of an individual. It also takes into account the extensive dialogue occurring between peers and the extensive application of metaphors for purposes of enhancing understanding (Magnier-Watanabe, Benton & Senoo, 2011, p. 17).
The third mode in SECI, Correspondence, reflects on “Ba’s” third aspect referred to as Cyber ‘Ba”. This takes into consideration the interaction place in the virtual world rather than real space with time (Bernius, 2010, p. 583). Finally, the fourth mode as proposed in the SECI model, Internalisation, reflects on the Exercising ‘Ba’ aspect in the Ba model. This is the concept of supporting and changing explicit knowledge to knowledge that is tacit in nature. It depends upon the use of action during learning.
Contrasting the Two Models
Both models proposed by Nonaka and Takeuchi describe combination and internalisation as comprising of several activities that are, nonetheless, distinct.
In particular, two activities of reading and writing make up both processes. These activities are disparate and not clearly understood in terms of what makes them be considered as internalisation or a combination. Nonaka and Takeuchi do not make their principle clear, even through suggested examples (Magnier-Watanabe, Benton & Senoo, 2011, p. 20). This overly implies deficiency in conceptual clarity.
In the SECI model, the argument upheld by the two proponents is that tacit knowledge forms the basis of any new knowledge. However, what the models fail to explain clearly is the fact that knowledge conversion ought to start from socialisation. Further, the argument suggests that tacit knowledge also comes about as a result of internalisation (Nonaka & Toyama, 2003, p. 2).
From this point of view, it can be argued that knowledge creation may also result from creative production of explicit knowledge given that reading and writing form a critical aspect of tacit knowledge formation. This is also referred to as ‘combination’, according to the two models. Basing on the same argument, externalisation could equally form part of a starting point because all that is needed is what is known as ‘source’ activity or the associated tacit knowledge, which is already in existence.
It is critical to point out that Nonaka evidently proposed only two approaches through which knowledge is converted. These are tacit to explicit mode and explicit to tacit mode (Nonaka & Toyama, 2003, p. 2). Socialisation deals with how people obtain knowledge that is tacit in nature.
On the other hand, combination is the aspect of impacting knowledge that is explicit in nature. The containers in this case could either be people, computers, or documents. The challenges that have been enumerated about the models are an indicator of a more serious problem in the conceptual model proposed by Nonaka.
Application of SECI Model in the Industry
One of the most significant incidents highlighting the application of the SECI model in the industry reflects on the performance of Apple Inc, which today is regarded as one of the best and leading IT companies in the world. In particular, Apple owes its growth and successful business practices to the tacit knowledge of its former chief executive officer, the late Steve Jobs (Buono & Poulfeit, 2005, p. 314).
Virtually all the product ideas from Apple Inc. that today reign in the IT market, such as the iPod and iPhone, were propped up by Jobs ahead of other rival firms in the IT industry.
Although he was in the top management of the firm, Steve Jobs shared his tacit knowledge with the rest of the company’s staff, including fellow managers and engineers, to turn his mental ideas into real products. As Nonaka, Reimoeller, and Senoo (2000, p. 90) point out, tacit knowledge is not measurable, but it depends mainly on an individual’s experience gained over time. Jobs had both tacit and explicit knowledge, having rejoined Apple as a manager after several years of working in different IT projects.
The externalisation of the tacit knowledge contained in Jobs brain mainly occurred through the brainstorming meetings that he attended with the rest of his colleagues in the firm. Jobs is also renowned for having authored his numerous experiences that were read and shared amongst the members of the organisation (Buono & Poulfeit, 2005, p. 314).
Nonaka and Takeuchi have provided immense breakthrough in the area of organisational knowledge management through their proposed models. The SECI model comprises of four modes, which Nonaka explains as critical in managing knowledge. They include socialisation between individuals with knowledge and those lacking it, externalisation, combination, and internalisation. The knowledge management model also introduces two definitions of knowledge; tacit and explicit knowledge.
The former refers to knowledge or ideas that are contained in one’s brain, but which are immeasurable. On the other hand, explicit knowledge is measurable and can be explained by an individual. Another model suggested by the gurus is known as the “Ba” model, or the Shared Context of Knowledge Creation model. Like the SECI model, it also comprises of four aspects that Nonaka describes as originating Ba, Interacting Ba, Cyber Ba, as well as Exercising Ba.
The four Ba’s correspond to SECI’s Socialisation, Externalisation, Combination, and Internalisation respectively. Apple Inc. is one of the firms that highlight the application of the SECI model explicitly. Under Steve Jobs as its manager, Apple made significant business strides because of the tacit and explicit knowledge that he brought with him on board.
List of References
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