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 on 3 November 2006. The Wall Street Journal Ranks Professor Ikujiro Nonaka as One of the World's Most Influential Business Thinkers.
This is Part II concerning distributed knowledge leadership.
As might be expected, Nonaka was clear in stating, "Universal proclamations of truth are of little use to leaders." Rather, the focus is on ba -- shared context, emotion, socialization, setting.
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.
Knowledge leadership has three essential properties: vision (what), practice (how) and conversation (why).
Knowledge leadership is NOT 'techne' (skilled + craft) or 'epistme' (scientific + analytical). This is among the most important of Nonaka’s principles for KM.
Rather, leadership is 'phrone' -- having wisdom in determining ends and the means of attaining them. Leaders depend on high quality tacit knowledge. They 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 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 strong November snow squall entirely confident and satisfied they had just witnessed something very special.
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 on 3 November 2006.
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 authority. As usual and expected, their hype-fueled marketing manifestos are hollow. 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, knowledge markets and collective intelligence are worthwhile. They are genuine and deserving the utmost attention. All the other social media fluff is best ignored since it is simply an ephemeral and volatile distraction.
On that cold November morning 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. Our 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 SECI model. It is important to note, that this is simply a knowledge creation model. It is not a process. It is not a process of management. It is not a organizational framework. Surprisingly, so many people dismiss SECI simply because they do not know what it is or how to understand it.
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 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.