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Report from “Ba” - KM Asia 2001

First published July 24, 2001

The Knowledge Management Asia 2001 conference was held in Singapore last week. The conference was organized by the Ark Group, and was the first of its kind to be held in the Asia-Pacific region. The programme included presentations and case studies by some of the most respected companies in KM such as BP, IBM, World Bank, Andersen, Buckman, etc. The following is our report on some interesting presentations.

Leading Knowledge Creation: The Power of Tacit Knowledge

-Ikujiro Nonaka
The KM Asia 2001 started with a keynote address from Professor Ikujiro Nonaka. In his presentation titled "Leading Knowledge Creation: The Power of Tacit Knowledge", he talked about the two types of knowledge -- the Tacit and the Explicit, and how a dynamic interaction, or in his words, a "Analog-Digital Synthesis" between the two is required for knowledge creation.

He listed the 4 key components of "The Theory of Knowledge Creation":

  1. The SECI Process
  2. The Concept of "Ba"
  3. Knowledge Assets and
  4. Leadership.

At the heart of his thesis is this diagram that explains the Knowledge Creation Process:


The interaction between tacit and explicit knowledge creates new knowledge, a spiraling process between the two types of knowledge. There are four steps in the knowledge creation process -- the SECI steps:

Socialization implies sharing tacit knowledge between individuals, empathizing with colleagues or customers. This means time has to be spent together so that knowledge can be acquired through physical proximity.

Externalization involves the expression of tacit knowledge and its translation into comprehensible forms that can be understood by others. An individual commits to a group and becomes one with the group. The expression of tacit knowledge is in fact its conversion into explicit knowledge and to be able to do this figurative language and visuals are essential.

Combination is the conversion of explicit knowledge into more complex sets of explicit knowledge. Key issues are communication, diffusion and the systemization of knowledge. New knowledge is spread among the organizational members and this knowledge is edited making it more usable.

Internalization is the conversion of newly created explicit knowledge into the organization's tacit knowledge. The individual has to identify the knowledge relevant to one's self within the organizational knowledge.

After explaining the SECI diagram, Nonaka mentioned, it took him 10 years to come up with the diagram and how sometimes he wonders what his life has been!

The Concept of "Ba":

The word "Ba" is a Japanese term which roughly translates into the English word "place". Ba is the shared space serving as a foundation for knowledge creation and knowledge is embedded in Ba. If knowledge becomes separated from Ba it becomes information. Information can exist in media or networks, knowledge cannot, it is intangible.

Knowledge is boundary-less, dynamic and if not used at a specific time or place, is of no value. Use of knowledge requires the concentration of knowledge resources at a certain space or time. Ba is the place for resource concentration of knowledge assets and intellectualizing capabilities within the knowledge creation process, Ba collects applied knowledge and integrates it. An example of Ba is a project team, a place where people of several different capabilities are brought together in order to generate knowledge.

Nonaka showed us some great examples of Ba's specifically designed to enable knowledge creation and sharing in companies such as NTT DoCoMo and Toyota.


Embedding Knowledge Management into Operations - a BP case study

-Chris Collison, Geoff Parcell, BP
In their presentation, Collison and Parcell, tell of BP's KM effort in building "Connect", the organization's knowledge and expertise directory.

Connect enables the staff to easily put up their personal home pages on the company intranet. Simple huh? Here's the catch: the home pages are grouped around solving specific business problems, or in other words, around the staff's expertise, knowledge and experience. For example, when a member of a project team encounters a problem, she can tap into Connect to locate other staff members who have been through similar experiences, or are currently involved in similar projects. In doing this, she leverages on BP's past and present expertise in solving her problems.

After sitting through some hideous presentations given by some consulting agencies, it was a great relief to find that BP actually had a very simple and elegant KM framework.

BP's KM Framework

The framework:

Btw, the complete BP story is recorded in a book written by Collison and Parcell titled Learning to Fly


Storytelling as a Knowledge Management tool

-Steve Denning
Steve Denning tells us a story of how he tried to convince his colleagues of the importance of sharing knowledge throughout the organization. But the persuasive tools he had used all of his professional life Ñ analytical charts and graphs, written reports Ñ weren't working. So he decided to tell them a story.

In his keynote, "Storytelling as a knowledge Management tool", Denning tells how he stumbled upon the power of storytelling, and used it to catalyze change in a large organization. He found that telling a story could enable and accelerate change by providing direct access to the living part of the organization, and so lead to change in the organization. Storytelling communicates complicated change ideas while generating momentum towards rapid implementation. Storytelling is not simply about talk, since it can lead directly to action.

"Change ideas in large organizations tend to be so complicated, that full communication of the ideas in their entirety is not even theoretically possible,Ó Denning explains. ÒThe ideas themselves are not precise and are generally still evolving, so that they cannot be captured or even fully understood at any one point.Ó Consequently, what he calls a "springboard storyÓ doesn't attempt stimulate careful debate. It is not even very fascinating in itself Ñ rather it is brief and textureless.Ó But such stories do have these vital characteristics:

Steve Denning is the author of the The Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations, which describes how storytelling can serve as a powerful tool for organizational change and knowledge management


The Art and Science of Story

- David Snowden, IBM
This presentation was part of the Storytelling Masterclass Series that Dave Snowden did with Steve Denning. Dave also gave an excellent keynote presentation titled "Innovation, KM & Corporate Success", but the storytelling presentation was more exciting, and intellectually very stimulating! One sentence struck a chord: "At its most fundamental level, knowledge can only be volunteered; it cannot be conscripted."

Some pointers at the outset:

OK. Here's our take on how his framework works:

Snowden's framework

Anecdotes, which are naturally occurring stories, are captured in various ways -- Anthropological observation, story circles, virtual gathering, and through pervasive capture. These captured anecdotes provide the raw material for Story construction (capitalization deliberate as Story is purposefully constructed).

The next step would be to deconstruct the anecdote material to create component parts for Story construction. This has many techniques such as W-fragments (find out the Who, What, When, Where, and Why of the anecdote), Story Effect (gauging the impact of the anecdote on either the originator or the audience), and Story Feature (re-describing of the anecdote in standard forms).

From the deconstruction Archetypes and Organizing Principles (those that express themselves as values, rules or beliefs and provide a means of articulating the information principles around which a community is self-organizing) are generated. The result of this process is Story that has a purpose; assumes a particular form and is represented in a particular manner.

At this point the Story can be told, but Snowden's research shows that a little bit of Story Management would be wise. This management process looks into possible causes for the generation of Myth Objects (positive or negative alternative stories live within an organization) and their management by Story Viruses (process that are created to destroy negative myth creating objects).

Too Complex? The links below can help you in your understanding. The Business Information Review articles are very informative, but unfortunately, they are only available to subscribers. Nevertheless, you can contact David Snowden at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), and ask him for the papers.


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