Nonaka @ Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien (Part II)

Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien (Vienna University of Economics and Business) is the largest b-school in Europe. It was the venue for a lecture by Ikujiro Nonaka. The Wall Street Journal Ranks Professor Ikujiro Nonaka as One of the World’s Most Influential Business Thinkers.

Ikujiro Nonaka


This is Part II concerning distributed knowledge leadership and the future of business.

See: Nonaka @ Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien (Part I)

As might be expected, Nonaka was clear in stating, “Universal proclamations of truth are of little use to leaders.” Rather, the focus is on bashared context, emotion, socialization, setting. 

The critical essence of social business is ba. It nurtures, coordinates and cultivates the complex interactions that are the foundation of business.

In his lecture, Nonaka was skilled in offering taxonomies of leadership without offering a taxonomy of leadership. This paradox is indicative of the simple, powerful yet potentially infuriating mental model necessary to grasp his famous principles and achieve mastery of social business.

Social business leadership has three essential properties: vision (what), practice (how) and conversation (why).

Social business leadership is not techne (skilled + craft) or epistme (scientific + analytical).  This is among the most important of Nonaka’s principles for social business and The Social Enterprise. It is also the most difficult hurdle for to overcome by those trained in the traditions of Newton and Ford.

Rather, social business leadership is ‘phrone‘ — having wisdom in determining ends and the means of attaining them. Leaders depend on high quality tacit knowledge. The complex interactions of social business have the following abilities and attributes —

Judgment – identifying the qualities that all things seek; virtue; excellence;

Sharing – driving qualities of care, love, trust and safety per se;

Grasp – mastery of situation and complexity; simultaneous seeing the forest and trees; ‘indwelling’;

Reconstruct — conceptualizing; inductive language, narratives, metaphors and cross pollination;

Good — shrewd practice to advance the common good; selflessness;

Phronesis — fostering distributed wisdom and means to favorable outcomes; focus on absolute value.

For distributed phronesis, there are three simultaneous levels —

A00 — What do you do this for (ontological)

A0   — What is your concept (conceptual)

A — What is the specification (operational)

Professor Nonaka stressed low-tech, proximate methods in his compelling cases and well-researched examples.

In one case, a major enterprise achieved widespread mastery of distributed phronesis with dry-erase boards and Post-Its. “Only physical interaction allows exchange of tacit knowledge.” 

Nonaka then reiterated the importance of ba, and its many flavors — originating, conversational, practicing, etc.

At this point, around 12N, the lecture was concluded and there were some questions.

There were the typical, rambling, incoherent statement-question from the rather annoying people that can’t seem to get past and accept the rich mosaic of fundamental truth in ba and SECI.

One elderly, well-meaning gent, looking nearly exactly like Freud, in the front row, rambled on forever. Once it was clear he was never, ever going to be able to frame his inquiry, the moderator mercifully interrupted…

At this moment, Nonaka paused for an excruciatingly-long moment, enjoyed the deafening silence in the packed lecture hall, slowly surveyed the huge rapt audience, and sincerely quipped in reply to the gentleman, “What exactly is the question?”  This brought-the-house-down with howls of laughter and long, thunderous applause.

There were a few more perfunctory questions, before people packed up and bundled up to head out into a brisk, snowy day in Vienna entirely confident and satisfied they had just witnessed something very special.

See: Nonaka @ Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien (Part I)

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