Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests. -- Luke 2:14

Monday, December 5, 2011

What I learned in the UOKM class


What I learned in the UOKM class
     Before I took this class – Knowledge Management and Social Media – I had a very vague impression on knowledge. I treated knowledge as an abstract concept, which is used by us human beings every day, yet I did not look further into it, let alone thinking of what is knowledge management.

     From the beginning of the UOKM class, I stepped into an abstract and systemic world of knowledge and knowledge management, and started having a deeper understanding of the interesting world through Professor Lévy’s lectures, as well as the instructive readings – Etienne Wenger, Nancy White and John J. Smith’s (2009) DigitalHabitats: Stewarding Technology for Communities, and Nonaka and Takeuchi’s (1995) The Knowledge-Creating Company. How Japanese Companies Create the Dynamics of Innovation.

     Below is what I learned in the UOKM class – which has three parts: (1) my new view on knowledge and knowledge management; (2) why we need knowledge management; and (3) knowledge management and communities of practice in digital habitats.

My new view on knowledge and knowledge management

     What is knowledge? The definition of knowledge is generally agreed by most Western scholars as “justified true belief”, a concept that was first introduced by Plato (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995, p.21). However, growing up in an Eastern culture, I felt the same way with Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995) that what we contend of knowledge and the approaches to it are quite different from the Western. Personally, I found myself very familiar with the three “oneness” summarized by Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995) – oneness of humanity and nature, oneness of body and mind, and oneness of self and other – as the main traditional approaches to knowledge.

     Not until I heard it from the UOKM class did I realize that there two types of knowledge: tacit knowledge and explicit knowledge. According to Nonaka, tacit knowledge and explicit knowledge have some distinctions from each other – tacit knowledge is subjective, empirical, simultaneous, analogic and practical; meanwhile, explicit knowledge is objective, rational, sequential, digital and theoretical (Lévy, 2011). However, this pair of dichotomy can work together. On the one hand, we need both to have real and complete knowledge (Lévy, 2011). On the other hand, tacit knowledge cannot be translated to another environment directly; it has to be transformed to explicit knowledge (Lévy, 2011).

     After realizing the two types, I could treat knowledge in a more abstract way. Nonaka and Takeuchi’s SECI model (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995) explains a lot to me of the four contents of knowledge created by the four modes of knowledge conversion (Figure 1).

Figure 1: The SECI model (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995)

     In this model, Nonaka and Takeuchi argue that “three of them – socialization, combination, and internalization – have been discussed from various perspectives in organizational theory”, while however, “externalization has been somewhat neglected” (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995, p.62).

     Through my own limited observation, I found the same thing. For example, during our studying the knowledge of knowledge management in the UOKM class, we students talk to each other and share the experience and means of writing a better essay or doing a better presentation – which I think is socialization, according to the SECI model; the process we learn the knowledge from the documents (i.e., PDF files, web links, recommended books, etc.) given by our professor, is combination; and finally, we are now using the knowledge from academic materials to embody ourselves into the knowledge management field – which is internalization to me. However, it seemed that we did lack externalization – e.g., the practical real examples of knowledge management from Professor Lévy (or someone else in the class)’s own experiences on this particular field.

     Anyway, the UOKM class did open a new door for me to think deeply and abstractly on “knowledge” itself, and lead me to a new and growing field: knowledge management.

Why we need knowledge management

     Before taking this course, I had a vague concept of what knowledge management – I thought every company has its own situation and the success can hardly be “copied and pasted”. However, I learned through the class that we do need knowledge management for building a better company, because knowledge (maybe not patterns) can be translated and transmitted.

     From the middle-up-down management, to the “hypertext” organizational structure, Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995) taught me if we have the right and organized way to manage a company, we may probably run the business in a better direction.

     I loved to read the interesting cases that Nonaka and Takeuchi mentioned in their book. These cases also illustrate the “externalization” mode of knowledge conversion – learning by doing can help other companies succeed. In Nonaka and Takeuchi’s new organizational structure (1995), they bring out a key layer in the organization: knowledge base. I am wondering if it is the predecessor of Nonaka’s “Ba” – a shared space that serves as a foundation for knowledge creation (Lévy, 2011). Bas are the relationships between body, material world and inner sense-making; different Bas relate different socialization circles (Lévy, 2011) (Figure 2). In all kinds of Bas, we obtain knowledge that includes not only the ideas but also the mechanisms operating their cycles of generation, reproduction, networking and transformation, where learning is the evolution of knowledge (Lévy, 2011). Gradually, we thus have the communities of practice.
Figure 2: Ba and knowledge creation (Nonaka, Toyama & Konno, 2000)

Knowledge management and communities of practice: From “learning by doing” to “learning together”

     Wenger, White and Smith have mentioned in their book some important terms in communities, such as learning together and leadership (Wenger, White & Smith, 2009). How do we learn knowledge? According to Wenger (1998), the process that “we interact with each other and with the world and we tune our relations with each other and with the world accordingly” (p.45) is how we learn.

     In Digital Habitats, Wenger, White and Smith then draw more specifically an interactive relationship of technology and community, whose patterns of interactivity and connectivity function like DNA, is helping us reconsider “what we know about communities” and to rediscover “fundamental ideas” in digital habitats (2009, p.21). They really focus on the term “learning together”, and introduce the essential ingredient in a community of practice to us: leadership (Wenger, White & Smith, 2009, p.10).

     From “learning by doing” to “learning together”, from Nonaka to Wenger, I seemed to see a clear track starting from obtaining knowledge, and leading to knowledge management. Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995) also mentioned the knowledge-creating crew in the new hypertext organization, as well as the important role of middle managers in a successful knowledge creation-oriented company. Thus, I contend that everyone sharing and learning knowledge, with proper leaders managing the community, is the key to a company’s success.

     Above all is what I learned in the UOKM class. I’d like to thank Professor Lévy and everyone in the class for giving me such a great experience, as the wonderful close to my master program.

Works cited:
  • Lévy, P. (2011). Lecture Notes. Ottawa, Ontario, University of Ottawa.
  • Nonaka, I. & Takeuchi, H. (1995). The Knowledge-Creating Company. How Japanese Companies Create the Dynamics of Innovation. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Nonaka, I., Toyama, R. & Konno, N. (2000). SECI, Ba and leadership: A unified model of dynamic knowledge creation. Long Range Planning, 33(1), 5-34.
  • Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. OP: Cambridge University Press.
  • Wenger, E., White, N. & Smith, J. D. (2009). Digital Habitats: Stewarding Technology for Communities. Portland, OR: CPsquare.