Nonaka & Takeuchi: theory of Organizational Knowledge Creation (1995)
Nonaka and Takeuchi’s management model of knowledge is geared explicitly towards creating knowledge within organizations. Thus, they define a distinctive ontology that refers to knowledge creation entities at different levels: individual, group, organizational and inter-organizational. His model culminates in the proposal for a “knowledge creation spiral.”
Nonaka & Takeuchi define knowledge as:
“A dynamic human process of personal justification of beliefs towards the truth” (p.58)
They distinguish knowledge from information, the latter is the means or raw material to generate and build knowledge, but it is not knowledge. It simply adds something or restructures the existing knowledge.
In turn, for Nonaka and Takeuchi, information can be treated from a syntactic (volume) or semantic (meaning) approach. They clarify that the most interesting for creating knowledge is the semantic aspect of the information.
Tacit vs explicit knowledge
The cornerstone of this model is the distinction between tacit and explicit knowledge. Nonaka and Takeuchi attach great importance to the conversion processes between the different types of knowledge and, above all, to the conversion of tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge.
From the ontologic dimension, these authors understand that knowledge is created in the individual, so that knowledge at the organizational level cannot emerge without the participation of its members. The organization functions as a facilitator, providing support and context for individuals to create knowledge.
From the epistemological perspective, they distinguish between two types of knowledge: tacit and explicit knowledge (procedural and declarative knowledge, respectively, in psychology).
They consider that tacit knowledge is personal, contextual, and challenging to communicate and formalize. The explicit, or encoded knowledge, refers to that knowledge that can be transmitted through some language.
With their proposal, Nonaka and Takeuchi bridge the gap between the Western and Japanese perspectives on which of the two types of knowledge is more valuable. In the West, explicit knowledge tended to be emphasized, while tacit knowledge was preferred in Japan. They affirm that both types of knowledge are two sides of the same coin; they are complementary and interact, giving meaning to the human experience.
Dynamic creation of knowledge
Nonaka & Takeuchi propose a dynamic model of knowledge creation. They socially contextualize the conversion processes of some types of knowledge into others. These processes require the performance of the individual, but they go beyond individuality; they are the result of interaction between people.
As a novelty, they propose that the conversion between explicit and tacit knowledge is not unidirectional but takes place within a spiral where the conversion can be in any sense as shown in the following illustration:
Through socialization, individuals share experiences; tacit knowledge is created as mental models and technical skills. Knowledge is achieved through observation, imitation, and practice.
It is the process by which tacit knowledge becomes explicit knowledge. It is the key process of knowledge creation and its management. The process is carried out through metaphors, analogies, concepts, hypotheses or models, and is developed through dialogue and collective reflection.
It is the process by which explicit knowledge becomes explicit. Examples of this process can be formal educational procedures and, within the organizational context, it could be the conceptualization of a product in a company and the transmission of said conceptualization for its adaptation to the needs of the environment.
It is the conversion of explicit knowledge into tacit. It is closely related to “learning by doing.” It may be necessary to document that knowledge to help the individual put it into practice and internalize it.
The different types of knowledge interact through the various processes described within the spiral of knowledge creation that can be observed in the following Illustration.
Role of the company in the creation of knowledge
In this process of creating knowledge, the company must provide the appropriate context to facilitate group activities and the creation and accumulation of knowledge at the individual level. There are five conditions required at the organizational level to promote the spiral of knowledge:
It is defined by the organization’s objectives that, generally, will fit into the business strategy. The most critical part of a corporate knowledge management strategy is clarifying the type of knowledge that should be operationalized in your management system.
At the individual level, the organization members should enjoy as much autonomy as the firm circumstances allow. It is a way of letting unexpected opportunities arise and increasing individuals’ motivation to create new knowledge.
Fluctuation and creative chaos
They stimulate the interaction between the internal and external context of the organization.
Fluctuation is an order in which predicting the occurrence of events is more complex; with it, the breakdown of routines, habits, or shared cognitive frameworks occurs. It is related to a sharpening of perception by forcing us to step out of our comfort zone and causing us to reconsider our usual approaches and perspectives. At the organizational level, it forces the interaction between individuals and the redefinition of concepts, creating new knowledge.
On the other hand, chaos happens every time the organization faces critical situations (e.g., declining sales or performance). It can be intentionally forced by leaders to create a kind of crisis atmosphere among members when new challenges are presented to them. This chaos has been called creative chaos and serves to focus the members on posing and solving problems, emphasizing the importance of the definition of the problem and the solution. For it to be carried out, the reflective participation of the members regarding their actions is necessary since, otherwise, it can lead to destructive chaos
It is the intentional overlapping of information about business activities, management responsibilities, and the company. Sharing redundant information promotes the exchange of tacit knowledge because individuals can become aware of what others articulate.
There are several ways to create redundancy in your organization, such as creating competing teams or strategic staff turnover.
Variety of requirements
It is related to the heterogeneity of requirements that occur in highly dynamic environments and the need to interpret them quickly and adapt them flexibly, facilitating access to information throughout the organization.
Nonaka and Takeuchi's five-phase model of knowledge management
The knowledge creation process proposed by Nonaka and Takeuchi is made up of five phases:
- Sharing tacit knowledge.
- Concept creation
- Justification of concepts
- Construction of archetypes
- Transversal leveling of knowledge