Knowledge Creation and Sharing in Japanese Organisations: A Socio-Cultural Perspective on ba

Knowledge Creation and Sharing in Japanese Organisations: A Socio-Cultural Perspective on ba

Kiyoshi Murata (Meiji University, Japan)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-873-9.ch001
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The Japanese contribution to knowledge management results from the work of Ikujiro Nonaka and his colleagues, who developed an Organisational Knowledge Creation Theory. In fact, throughout the literature the importance of these scholars in knowledge management is evidently recognisable. However, it is important to understand this theoretical contribution in the context of the socio-cultural background that pervades it. For that reason, this chapter explores the relationship between the Japanese school of knowledge management and the socio-cultural systems of Japan. Furthermore, the chapter also demonstrates that this relationship disrupts organisation’s ba (a field of knowledge creation and sharing), and as a consequence some social dilemmas arise, most importantly a degradation of trust.
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Japanese business scholar Ikujiro Nonaka and his colleagues developed an organisational knowledge creation theory as a basic theory of knowledge-based management, rooted mainly in their observations of Japanese manufacturing firms such as Honda, Sony, Kao, Canon and NEC. They recognised that the competitive advantage of Japanese firms in the international market has derived from the skill and ability of these firms with regard to organisational knowledge creation. This theory is composed of four conceptual elements: a socialisation-externalisation-combination-internalisation (SECI) model, ba (spatial and time settings of organisational knowledge creation), knowledge assets, and knowledge leadership. The theory is based on a number of ideas such as tacit knowledge (Polanyi, 1966; 1958), the logic of ba or place (Nishida, 1933; 1911), teleonomic evolutionary theory (Imanishi, 1976), and holons, fluctuation, self-organisation and ba in bioholonics (Shimizu, 1992; 1978). Many of these ideas are based on Eastern thought.

This chapter deals with knowledge creation and sharing in Japanese organisations, focusing on organisational knowledge creation theory (e.g., Nonaka & Konno, 1998; Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995) and Japanese socio-cultural characteristics, including uchi/soto awareness, insular collectivism and the hon’ne/tatemae tradition (Adams, Murata & Orito, 2009). In particular, the nature of the ba/field, in which knowledge creation and sharing activities are made, is examined from a Japanese socio-cultural perspective. In that examination, the author explores how knowledge creation and sharing in Japanese organisations is enhanced or restricted by the cultural characteristics of Japanese society. Success and failure factors in organisational knowledge creation and sharing are the targets of the investigation in this chapter. This clarifies intrinsic Japanese elements embedded in the knowledge creation theory and could be useful for non-Japanese organisations in applying the theory.

The structure of the remainder of this chapter is as follows. The next section describes the ideas and the background of the organisational knowledge creation theory, based on the studies of Nonaka and his colleagues. The following section examines the relationships between the organisational knowledge creation theory and Japanese culture. The last section investigates how ba, as a field of knowledge creation and sharing, should be managed in Japanese business organisations to permit them to achieve successful knowledge creation and sharing in Japanese socio-cultural circumstances.

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