The following essay offers an analysis of the article Organizational Knowledge Creation Theory: Evolutionary Paths and Future Advances, with an eye to the authors’ depiction of how the theory of organizational knowledge creation has evolved over the last 15 years.
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Since its inaugural use in 1986, the term knowledge management has consistently and stubbornly resisted a clear definition, largely due its inherent contradiction (Wilson, 2002).
Knowledge itself fundamentally defies management, as it is a personal internal mental process unique to each individual, a process that encompasses the private mental processes of comprehension, understanding and learning that occur within the confines of each individual’s mind (Dierkes et al., 2003, p. 493).
For the purposes of this article however, the term knowledge management has been subsumed by the clearer concept: organizational knowledge creation (Nonaka et al., 2006, p. 1179).
Organizational knowledge creation facilitates the method of providing, accessing and augmenting the knowledge generated by the individuals that make up a company, with the added benefit of applying that information to the larger organization’s knowledge system, so that the base of knowledge continually grows and expands (Nonaka et al., 2006, p. 1179).
Relevant information and applicable knowledge that employees derive from their wider life becomes beneficial to their organization and their fellow colleagues (Nonaka et al., 2006, p. 1179). Organizational knowledge creation theory helps to clearly elucidate this process for organizations and employees alike.
The theory has been gaining ground in academic circles in the last decade and, as a result has transmogrified management as a whole, becoming “broadly diffused in management practice over the last 15 years” (Nonaka et al., 2006, p. 1179). The engine behind this movement in management the authors attribute to a broadening of perspective held and developed amongst management scholars.
The authors assert that “since the mid-eighties …scholars have increasingly recognized that ‘information’ and ‘knowledge’ are not interchangeable. The construct ‘knowledge’ was increasingly accepted and now occupies a central and legitimate role in much mainstream organizational and management theory” (Nonaka et al., 2006, p. 1200).
The authors of Organizational Knowledge Creation Theory: Evolutionary Paths and Future Advances attribute the evolution of organizational knowledge creation theory to the materialization of numerous disparate epistemologies as the main driver in its development (Nonaka et al., 2006, p. 1200).
The first important step in the evolution of organizational knowledge creation theory, the authors assert, was the establishment of a workable definition for knowledge, one which addressed the contradiction and difficulty inherent in attempting to access the inner workings of a private mental landscape.
In the early nineties the gap that persisted between explicit and tacit knowledge was finally bridged, according to the authors, by the revelation that knowledge is simultaneously explicit and tacit.
Forms of knowledge which can be “uttered, formulated in sentences, captured in drawings and writing” the authors understood as explicit knowledge, whereas the more internal forms of knowledge such as that which derives from the “senses, movement skills, physical experiences, intuition or implicit rules of thumb” the authors identified as tacit knowledge (Nonaka et al., 2006, p. 1182).
The ensuing definition freed scholars previously locked in to the “Western epistemology with its strong focus on explicit knowledge” (Nonaka et al., 2006, p. 1182).
More importantly, this definition breathed life into the discipline because it allowed scholars to accept that “elements of perception, skills, experience and history” constitute a vital element of knowledge, and cemented the understanding in academia that “knowledge is never free from human values and ideas” (Nonaka et al., 2006, p. 1182).
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The important breakthrough here, the authors assert, was to understand the impact that the social environment has on individuals and how it shapes their acquisition and utilization of knowledge within the organization (Nonaka et al., 2006, p. 1182).
Building upon the foundation of the workable definition, the authors maintain that the theory expanded as a result of understanding the action of knowledge – known as knowledge conversion – n as it travels from within the person to within her organization (Nonaka et al., 2006, p. 1183).
This includes how knowledge becomes established, how it moves through an individual’s socialization into her mind, and how her mind then applies that knowledge to her work (Nonaka et al., 2006, p. 1183). According to the authors, knowledge travels a four-stage process known as SECI: socialization, externalization, combination and internalization (Nonaka et al., 2006, p. 1183).
Socialization strives to share tacit knowledge amongst an organization’s employees, while externalization takes concepts derived from this tacit knowledge and ground them in overt exterior concept — explicit concepts (Nonaka et al., 2006, p. 1183).
Combination gathers these various forms of explicit knowledge, while internalization reengineers this explicit knowledge into tacit knowledge (Nonaka et al., 2006, p. 1183). The net effect is synthesis. As the authors describe, “in knowledge conversion, personal subjective knowledge is validated, connected to and synthesized with others’ knowledge” (Nonaka et al., 2006, p. 1183).
Based on the insights offered by this article, the future of organizational knowledge creation theory will continue to grow and evolve as long as it can continue to utilize and amalgamate insights gleaned from diverse epistemologies and wider academic and business perspectives to enhance the academic understanding of how knowledge travels through an individual into an organization (Nonaka et al., 2006, p. 1200).
The comprehension that knowledge is affected by socialization, in particular, has broader management application and expands the practice as a whole (Nonaka et al., 2006, p. 1200). As the authors aptly note, the study of organizational knowledge creation theory “benefits from keeping its boundaries open” (Nonaka et al., 2006, p. 1200).
Dierkes, M. et al (2003) Handbook of organizational learning and knowledge. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Nonaka, I. & von Krogh, G. & Voelpel, S. C. (2006) ‘Organizational knowledge creation theory: evolutionary paths and future advances’, Organization Studies, 27 (8), pp. 1179-1208, Sage Premier 2009 Web. DOI: 10.1177/0170840606066312 .
Wilson, T. D. (2002). The nonsense of knowledge management. Information Research, 8(1), 1-21.