Ikujiro Nonaka

Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien (Vienna University of Economics and Business) is the largest b-school in Europe. It was the venue for a lecture by colleague Ikujiro Nonaka.

Colabria Action Research was in Vienna conducting the European Collective Intelligence Summit.   

Surprisingly, Nonaka’s essential principles are still foreign to many people. There is also an occasional, oddball challenge to SECI (Socialization, Externalization, Combination, Internalization). It is one reason why these notes and comments are offered.

Today, it is important to beware of the rush to ‘social media’ and Enterprise 2.0 by dilettantes and charlatans. These voluble phonies have no credibility or authority. As usual and expected, their hype-fueled marketing manifestos are hollow. N.B. Business and knowledge have always been social and propelled by social networks.

What scarce authenticity that does shine through today, like social networks analysis, complexity science, talent markets and collective intelligence are worthwhile. They are genuine and deserving your utmost attention. Your Colabria Action Research Networks colonize and expand these key business themes. All the other social media fluff, metrics, methods and techniques are best ignored since it is simply a distraction. Remember, most ‘social media’ initiatives are severely challenged because they simply add nothing to performance, productivity or business prosperity.

At Wirtschaftsuniversität there was at least one venue change to accommodate the huge crowd. This was an invite-only lecture, but word got out fast. The number of people quickly overwhelmed the check-in process. By popular demand, the lecture was piped across the university broadband media network. The largest lecture hall on campus was packed to the rafters; people were sitting in the aisle and standing in the back, out the doors. The proceedings got underway around 10:30AM.

At a spry 71 years young, professor Nonaka was as compelling, enlightening, incisive and humorous as always. Colabria’s warm relationship with Nonaka-san goes back to the mid-nineties, during the famed, five-year, Haas School of Business, University of California Berkeley Series, “Knowledge and the Firm.”

Professor Nonaka is clearly concerned with management’s debilitating focus on the past and its gnawing rationalist approach, to wit, “Emphasis or analysis of the past misses the fact that management is about creating the future.”

Nonaka-san spent several valuable minutes decrying management’s overbearing focus on science and analysis. “Objective analysis overlooks the subjective nature of strategy.” “Strategy is practice in context.”

Nonaka briefly covered the famous Socialization, Externalization, Combination, Internalization (SECI) model. It is important to note, that SECI is simply a knowledge creation model. It is not a process. It is not a process of management. It is not a organizational framework, method or technique. Surprisingly, so many people dismiss SECI simply because they do not know what it is or how to understand it.

SECI, in 1990s, was the foundation of the social re-orientation of the enterprise. This prescient model forecast the The Social Enterprise decades ago. 

Furthermore, essential to SECI is Ba: shared context, emotion, socialization, empathy among people. Four distinct type of Ba exists for each stage of SECI –originating, interaction, cyber and exercising Ba. These are the omnipresent social properties that compose the SECI network.

Too many people make the grave error of seeing SECI as a linear, mechanical process. They fail to accept knowledge is complex and socially-constructed. They have ridiculous concerns such as SECI being linear and mechanical. These people are often Fordist.  They completely miss the point that SECI is a deeply-rooted social mode of knowledge creation.

Western rationalist often reject SECI because they have positively no understanding (and even revulsion) of the profound social network context of Ba. All properties of SECI are synchronous. SECI is a simultaneous, continuous, perpetual and complex social network phenomenon, of course.

Furthermore, in SECI and Ba it is key to focus on socially-mediated “absolute value” according to Nonaka. (This is identical to the social network analysis lens.) There are no vicarious knowledge networks.

The social media rage is a tangible manifestation of SECI and Ba. 

The balance of the lecture was spent on business leadership. Too often, business dismisses leadership in favor of rigid management, centralization and strict control. Nonaka tackles this problem, by placing emphasis on distributed leadership. The focus must be on fostering widely diffused phronesis, or practical wisdom, or as Nonaka-san calls it, “ideological pragmatism.”

phronesis: [noun, philosophy] wisdom in determining ends and the means of attaining them.

See: Nonaka @ Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien (Part II)


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