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Enabling Knowledge Creation - Book Review

1 June 2007

Dr. Moria Levy

Undoubtedly, "The Knowledge-Creating Company," authored by Nonaka and Takeuchi in 1995, is a seminal work in knowledge management. Delving into Japanese culture, the book elucidates, through a knowledge-centric lens, how Japanese companies excel in innovating and achieving success by fostering a culture of knowledge sharing.


Fast forward five years to 2000, and Nonaka, in collaboration with Von-Krogh and Ichijo, authors a sequel titled "Enabling Knowledge Creation." This relatively lesser-known work delineates the five key factors that foster and facilitate the sharing and development of knowledge.


This article critically reviews the sequel, explaining the five factors and their respective contributions to each stage of knowledge development. It extracts valuable tips and insights from the book on knowledge sharing and development within organizational settings. It is important to note that this article does not serve as a substitute for reading the book but offers a glimpse into its essence, spotlighting select details that resonated during my reading.


The five pivotal factors encouraging and facilitating knowledge development are:

  1. Instilling a knowledge vision

  2. Managing conversations

  3. Mobilizing knowledge activists

  4. Creating the right context

  5. Globalizing local knowledge


The authors' foundational assumptions include defining knowledge as a justified truth held subjectively and recognizing that knowledge can be both concealed and explicit. Consequently, the efficacy of knowledge creation hinges on establishing the appropriate context, as elucidated below.

To comprehend the functioning of the five primary factors outlined below, it is crucial to revisit the five stages of knowledge development, meticulously defined and described in Nonaka and Takeuchi's seminal work, "The Knowledge-Creating Company":

  1. Sharing tacit knowledge

  2. Creating a concept

  3. Justifying a concept

  4. Building a prototype

  5. Cross-leveling knowledge


The impact of the diverse enabling factors varies across the stages of knowledge development. Each factor holds varying significance at different stages, with some being more crucial in specific phases and less relevant in others. The ensuing table succinctly encapsulates the importance of the different factors based on the stages of knowledge development:


The subsequent explanation delineates the factors that foster and facilitate knowledge development; each expounded upon individually:

  1. Installation of Vision Knowledge: The vision of knowledge serves a dual purpose, catering to societal development through knowledge advancement and the organization's survival through knowledge sharing. This vision encompasses the knowledge a company must seek and generate to realize its business or organizational vision. Seven critical criteria contribute to the success of a knowledge vision:

    a. Commitment to the path

    b. Generosity (!!)

    c. Distinctive organizational style

    d. Emphasis on aligning the knowledge system with the vision

    e. Focus on a mission support system

    f. External communication of values

    g. Dedication to designing a solution that creates a competitive advantage


At times, the evolution of knowledge within an organization is so unpredictable that the correct approach to a knowledge vision is not to attempt to predict it but to train individuals to embrace the unexpected.


Discourse:

Discourse emerges as the pivotal enabling factor, exerting significance across all stages of knowledge development and proving critical for sharing existing knowledge. Four fundamental principles guide the development of effective dialogue:

  • Actively encourage dialogue (especially by management).

  • Cultivate a discourse ethic within the organization.

  • Edit dialogue to prioritize progress.

  • Embrace an innovative language as a means of adopting new concepts.


The nature of discourse transforms each stage, as elucidated by the guidelines. Irrespective of the stage, the conversation manager assumes the role of the Caring Expert. Visionary approaches underscore the importance of fostering and nurturing employees, particularly knowledge activists, through meaningful discourse.


Recruitment of Knowledge Operatives:

Knowledge activists, instrumental in promoting knowledge sharing and development within an organization, convert knowledge and propagate its dissemination. Typically occupying positions as senior or middle managers, they differ from organizational knowledge managers, who also oversee managerial and control aspects of knowledge handling. Roles of knowledge activists include:

  • Catalysts of new knowledge creation.

  • Coordinators of knowledge development entrepreneurship.

  • Traders of foresight.


Representatives from the strategic planning team, R&D (research and development) personnel, and dedicated units focusing on knowledge transfer and technology are among those suited for a knowledge-active role.


Creating the Right Context:

Creating the proper context revolves around establishing a supportive organizational structure conducive to knowledge development, encompassing the Japanese concept of "BA." Context creation necessitates a holistic approach, recognizing that appreciation and understanding are mutually dependent. It involves defining the organizational structure and its practical implementation, allowing for growth and development based on organizational and business circumstances and the individuals driving the processes.


Knowledge sharing and development transpire through face-to-face and virtual interactions on individual and group levels. The context must accommodate all these modalities. The supportive organizational structure can vary, with centralized units at headquarters facilitating knowledge sharing or decentralized approaches creating supportive conditions through lateral projects and regular meetings. The emphasis is on how the structure perpetuates knowledge sharing flexibly rather than imposing rigid constraints.


Dissemination of Local Knowledge Throughout the Organization:

Disseminating knowledge poses a considerable challenge in companies, especially huge ones. For certain global companies, it becomes a distinct task in itself. The significance of disseminating knowledge is evident; otherwise, our efforts in knowledge development may be, at best, underutilized and, in other cases, wasted or lost. Since most knowledge evolves within small groups, dissemination is intricately linked to the final stage of development.


There are three critical stages in the dissemination of knowledge:

  1. The distribution process involves recognizing the need to disseminate knowledge and identifying the appropriate, cost-effective channel.

  2. Packing knowledge involves documenting and dispatching it. Decisions must be made regarding what knowledge will be documented, how it will be documented, and how it will be organized. For instance, the authors propose sharing knowledge about Best Practices through workshops, business intelligence knowledge through email, and manufacturing process knowledge through training.

  3. The re-creation of knowledge by the receiving group. Knowledge is never accepted as is; at the very least, it is interpreted and, in more extensive cases, readjusted to local needs. It must be acknowledged that the knowledge given always differs from the knowledge received. In his earlier work, "The Knowledge-Creating Company," Nonaka referred to this stage as the internalization phase in the transition from overt information to tacit knowledge anew. Correctly understanding this process allows managers to approach it with the proper respect and concern, avoiding the tendency to treat it as a purely technical stage.


Several organizational factors can impede the dissemination of knowledge, including the classification of expertise within business, cultural differences between the knowledge-creating group and those receiving it, and, notably, cultural barriers to adopting something not developed internally.


In conclusion, a list of insights emerges from the book. While these insights are discussed in specific chapters, their relevance extends beyond the context of their initial presentation. The selection of these insights underscores their subjective importance:

  • Creating the proper context is the crux of facilitating the development and sharing of knowledge.

  • The development of new knowledge is inherently uncontrollable and unpredictable. Hence, it is crucial to invest in creating the right context and establishing enabling processes.

  • Personal and organizational obstacles exist in knowledge management. The primary personal obstacle lies in individuals' difficulty when dealing with new situations, events, information, and context. In such instances, individuals may feel trapped and develop an emotional rather than an intellectual approach to the problem, hindering the generation of new knowledge.


Organizational Obstacles:

At the organizational level, four main obstacles impede knowledge management:

  1. The insistence on familiar language hinders attention to new ideas that require expression in alternative ways.

  2. Organizational stories block out incompatible ideas.

  3. Established procedures that new knowledge does not align with and are challenging to break.

  4. Organizational paradigms act as essential barriers.


Organizational Reference (Care):

The organizational reference (Care) is crucial for the success of knowledge management. Its dimensions include:

  • Mutual trust

  • Active empathy

  • Access to help

  • Tolerance in judging others

Organizational knowledge can be categorized into unique organizational knowledge and knowledge common to various competitors. To transform unique organizational knowledge into a source of competitive, stable added value, it must be:

  1. Valued

  2. Difficult to imitate and copy

  3. Challenging to replace with parallel alternative knowledge


Knowledge Processes:

Knowledge processes fall into two types:

  • Development of new knowledge, contributing to the organization's advancement.

  • Sharing existing knowledge contributes to the organization's survival.


The process holds more significance than the content itself. How a company treats its knowledge is crucial when building a strategy for company promotion. Due to the significant connection between knowledge and people, knowledge is inherently emotional.

One of the critical roles of managers is to expedite the time from developing new knowledge to its dissemination. Sometimes, even if not fully understood, receiving knowledge instills a positive feeling that knowledge is shared and support is provided.


Each organizational unit must recognize its dual role as both an implementing/executing group and an innovating group. Any organizational strategy defining units purely as executives has the potential to stifle knowledge development within them.


Sometimes, the lack of time can enhance the effectiveness of discourse. At certain stages, the urgency of "we have no choice, and we don't have time; let's get straight down to the facts" can be a helpful factor rather than a hindrance.


Conclusion:

In conclusion, organizations developing knowledge can be classified into risk minimizers, efficiency seekers, and innovators. The former focuses on orienting and retrieving existing knowledge, the second on transmitting and sharing it, and the latter on setting conditions for developing new knowledge. A point worthy of contemplation.


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