Monday, July 14, 2008

The Knowledge Creating Company ...

This book is one of the most renowned books when it comes to the subject of knowledge. This is The Knowledge-Creating Company by Nonaka and Takeuchi. Interesting reading, no doubt. And, i am sure i am learning a lot from the book. But, having said that (and you could say this could be because of very high expectations), i find the book a bit of a disappointment. Firstly, it is a bit confusing in the way it addresses definitional issues, and secondly, it focuses on the new product development aspect, in a way which at times doesnt feel relevant in other scenarios.

Firstly, the authors mention that metaphor and analogy are tools for externalization. However, this raises the question as to whether storytelling as a means of knowledge sharing should be treated as externalization, or whether it should be treated as socialization. According to the definition in the book, it should be treated as externalization, and this somehow doesnt ring too true, because a story is not really exlicit ... By the meaning of the word, the story is really tacit, because the real meaning and moral is hidden somewhere in the story, rather than being explicitly detailed, like in in data sheet. These two are qualitatively different, and this theory doesnt seem to address this difference. In other words, there is, to my mind, a difference between specific and generic knowledge (essentially, knowledge that is presented in the context in which it was created, vis a vis knowledge that has been abstracted from its context and presented in a generalized form), and this dimension of knowledge doesnt seem to be addressed here.

Secondly, somehow, another thing doesnt really come out too well ... That socialization, externalization, and combination are modes which are primarily from the sender's perspective, and in a sense, all of these must be followed by a step of internalization, otherwise the communication is incomplete. As such, internalization should be a component of all the three steps, but this doesnt come out well. For example, if someone were to write a document (externalization), does this by itself imply knowledge sharing? Or, would someone need to read and understand this document for the knowledge sharing cycle to be completed (ok, so a rather simplistic example, but adequate to actually get the point across, i suppose)? Also, the demarcation between the different steps doesnt come out too well. Although the impression one gets is that these four are substantially different forms of knowledge sharing, this difference doesnt come out clearly, and at the same time, the idea that comes out is that demarcation between the different modes is blurred. For example, if a discussion is considered to be socialization, when does this discussion move from being socialization, to being externalization? Or, if someone is writing a document based on their experiences, and is referring to other documents, would this be in the realm of externalization, or would this be combination? Somehow, the fact that many forms of knowledge sharing are a combination of these multiple modes, and people would move seamlessly from one mode to the other (as these modes are defined) doesnt come out too clearly.

Having said this, the theory is a very useful model to understand the concepts, and it would be extremely nice if the authors had built upon it, to take the nuances to the next level.

Would welcome all your thoughts and criticisms on the topic. Please do write in ... Would help me understand the fallacies in my arguments. Thank You!

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