6.2 The SECI Model

6.2 The SECI Model

          Ikujurio Nonaka presented a model of “knowledge creation” in a series of articles and books dating from the early 1990s. According to this model, knowledge creation is a spiraling process of interactions between explicit and tacit knowledge. This interactions lead to the creation of new knowledge and can be conceptualized through following four conversion patterns:

  • Socialization
  • Externalization
  • Combination
  • Internalization

           The SECI (Socialization, Externalization, Combination, and Internalization) model first appeared in 1991 (Nonaka,1991a; Nonaka,1991b; Nonaka,1994; Nonaka & Takeuchi,1995)  and attained recognition as a useful and rigorous approach to describing the ways knowledge is generated, transferred and re-created in organizations. In brief, the proposed model has the following important aspects:

  • An interaction dynamic (transfer)
  • Two forms of knowledge - tacit and explicit
  • Three levels of social aggregation - individual, group, context
  • Four knowledge-creation processes - socialization, externalization, combination and internalization

          The model proposes that a "knowledge-creating organization" consciously promote the interaction of tacit and explicit knowledge. This is accomplished through systems, structures, and organizational culture, which facilitate the four knowledge-creating processes:

  • Socialization - tacit to tacit: the sharing of tacit knowledge between individuals through joint activities.
  • Externalization- tacit to explicit: to convert tacit knowledge in publicly comprehensible forms.
  • Combination - explicit to explicit: the conversion of explicit knowledge into more complex sets of explicit knowledge for communication and dissemination.
  • Internalization - explicit to tacit: the conversion of externalized knowledge into tacit knowledge on an individual or organizational scale. The embodiment of explicit knowledge into actions, practices, processes and strategic initiatives.

Image is available in printed copy of the book                      In Figure  6.1, the I, G, and Osymbols represent individuals, group and organization aggregates. The transmission mechanisms are not prescribed, though there is an assumption that tacit knowledge (especially) requires a degree of physical proximity for knowledge transfer and exchange.  Thus, contended knowledge can flow through remote processes; making issues relating to physical proximity of primary importance for the transfer of tacit knowledge.

          The core behavioral assumption in the model is that knowledge creating organizations continually encourage the flow of knowledge between individuals and groups to improve both tacit and explicit knowledge stocks. The critical knowledge management assumption of the SECI process is that knowledge is created and improved as it flows through different levels of the organization and between individuals and groups. Thus, knowledge value is created through synergies between knowledge holders (both individual and group) within a supportive and developmental organizational context (Rice & Rice, 2004).

          Nonaka, Toyama and Konno (2000, 2001) added a third, more challenging, cultural assumption to the SECI model.  They introduced the Japanese concept of “Ba”, a philosophical construct rooted in Japanese society that relates to the physical, relational and spiritual elements of ‘place’, or perhaps more expansively ‘context’. Four different notions of “Ba” are defined in relation to each of the four quadrants of the SECI model (in Figure 1 above the relevant types of “Ba” are noted adjacent to the respective quadrant), which together make up the ‘knowledge spiral’. These are as follows:

  • The OriginatingBa”: a locale where individuals can share feelings, emotions, experiences and perceptual models
  • The DialoguingBa”: a space where tacit knowledge is transferred and documented to explicit form. Two key methods factors are through dialogue and metaphor creation.
  • The SystematizingBa”: a virtual space, where information technology facilitates the recombination of existing explicit knowledge to form new explicit knowledge and;
  • The ExercisingBa”: a space where explicit knowledge is converted into tacit knowledge.

          “Ba” calls attention to the fact that knowledge is context-dependent: it cannot be separated from its "place" in any meaningful way. Each knowledge-creating process therefore requires a “Ba”, a phenomenal space whose importance should be recognized by the organization. The organization, in fact, should focus significant attention on the development of its “Bas” since more is to be gained by developing the environment around knowledge processes than efforts directed at the processes themselves.

          In this model, knowledge is continuously converted and created as users practice and learn. The process should be seen as a continuous, dynamic, swirl of knowledge. Effective KM must therefore take into account the different methods described above, so as to adopt the right strategy in the support of the creation and transfer of knowledge. In a subsequent section we will expand the SECI model to include embedded knowledge.

          However, Hedlund and Nonaka (1993) argue that knowledge management characteristics can have serious implications for the various types of activities such as innovation and strategies and this can affect organizations’ success or failures. Hence, they suggest that the essence of organizations’ survival and success can depend on how they create, transfer and exploit their knowledge resources. For this purpose they have proposed the following model:

  Individual Group Organization Inter-organizational
Articulated knowledge Knowing calculus Quality Circle’s documented analysis of its performance Organization chart Supplier’s patents and documented practices
Tacit knowledge Cross-cultural Negotiation Skills Team coordination in complex work Corporate Culture Customer’s attitudes to products and expectations