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The Knowledge-Creating Company: How Japanese Companies Create the Dynamics of Innovation (英語) ハードカバー – 1995/5/18
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How has Japan become a major economic power, a world leader in the automotive and electronics industries? What is the secret of their success? The consensus has been that, though the Japanese are not particularly innovative, they are exceptionally skilful at imitation, at improving products that already exist. But now two leading Japanese business experts, Ikujiro Nonaka and Hiro Takeuchi, turn this conventional wisdom on its head: Japanese firms are successful, they contend, precisely because they are innovative, because they create new knowledge and use it to produce successful products and technologies.
Examining case studies drawn from such firms as Honda, Canon, Matsushita, NEC, 3M, GE, and the U.S. Marines, this book reveals how Japanese companies translate tacit to explicit knowledge and use it to produce new processes, products, and services.
When the authors detail specific examples of knowledge creation, the reader's interest awakens. (The Wall Street Journal)
Nonaka and Tekuchi demonstrate for the reader how it is possible to transfer tacit knowledge into explicit, which in turn is used to create new knowledge. (Knowledge Management, June 2000)
Nonaka is indispensable. (Financial Times)
Nonaka and Takeuchi have written an academic study that summarises their theories and presents case studies illustrative to a western audience ... a guide to practitioners, based on materials for workshops and consultancy by the authors. (Financial Times)
Provides a perceptive and very relevant analysis of how Japanese companies go about creating new knowledge organizationally ... One of the most valuable new books I have covered ... for some time. (Long Range Planning)
The book, an esoteric mixture of philosophy and practical guidance, has been a business bestseller in the US. (Charles Leadbeater, Financial Times)
A wonderful book on Japanese management.
Much more solidly based in real companies and real psychology than, say, excessively Hegelian approaches such as the 'social construction of reality' one or even 'ratomorphic behaviourists' who are surprised when they're bitten by theory rejection: the rats bite back, because their conscious minds reject being interpreted in terms of how lab rats behave!
Solid examples from dozens of case study investigations into Japanese companies!
And, whilst not as sound as an ontological approach, quite appropriate for the modern corporation, if not for the astrophysics research institute!
Because project teams consist of members with varying functional specializations, the issue of learning was considered a key aspect of product development. The article focused on two dimensions of learning: across multiple levels (individual, group, and corporate) and across multiple functions. But although the authors devoted sections to cross-fertilization and transfer of learning, they didn't develop the epistemological dimension of learning, and their focus was more on the learning organization than on the knowledge-creating company. Japanese firms' reliance on trial and error and on learning by doing wasn't analyzed in terms of the prevalence of tacit knowledge and processes of organizational knowledge creation.
In their book, Nonaka and Takeuchi introduce a key distinction between two kinds of knowledge: explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge. Explicit knowledge can be expressed in words and numbers and shared in the form of data, scientific formulae, specifications, manuals, and the like. This kind of knowledge can be readily transmitted across individuals formally and systematically. Tacit knowledge, on the other hand, is highly personal and hard to formalize, making it difficult to communicate or share with others. Subjective insights, intuitions, and hunches fall into this category of knowledge. Difficult to verbalize, such tacit knowledge is deeply rooted in an individual's action and experience, as well as in the ideals, values, or emotions he or she embraces.
There are two dimensions to knowledge creation: epistemological and ontological. The epistemological level describes how knowledge is converted from one type into another through processes of socialization (from tacit knowledge to tacit knowledge), externalization (from tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge), combination (from explicit to explicit) and internalization (from explicit to tacit). The ontological level refers to the knowledge-creating entity: it includes individual, group, organizational, and interorganizational levels. A knowledge spiral emerges when the interaction between tacit and explicit knowledge is elevated dynamically from a lower ontological level to higher levels.
The authors believe that Japanese companies are especially good at realizing this exchange between tacit and explicit knowledge during the product development phase, and that there is a distinctively Japanese approach to knowledge creation. Epistemologically, Westerners tend to emphasize explicit knowledge and the Japanese tend to stress tacit knowledge. Ontologically, Westerners are more focused on individuals, while the Japanese are more group-oriented. These differences give rise to a wholly different view of the organization: not as a machine for processing information, but as a living organism. People in Japan emphasize the importance of learning from direct experience as well as through trial and error. Like a child learning to eat, walk, and talk, they learn with their minds and bodies. This tradition of emphasizing the oneness of body and mind has been a unique feature of Japanese thinking since the establishment of Zen Buddhism.
The Western philosophical tradition, culminating with Wittgenstein, stresses that "we cannot say what we cannot think". But through metaphors, analogies, and pictures, people put together what they know in new ways and begin to express what they know but cannot yet say. As Polanyi put it, "We can know more than we can tell". The concept of tacit knowledge focuses on highly subjective insights, intuitions, and hunches that are gained through practical experience. This messy knowledge can prove indispensable in elaborating new concepts. As the authors underscore, "Ambiguity can prove useful at times not only as a source of a new sense of direction, but also as a source of alternate meanings and a fresh way of thinking about things. In this respect, new knowledge is born out of chaos".
Another important contribution of this book is to highlight the importance of middle managers and the role they play in the knowledge-creation process. Middle managers serve as a bridge between the visionary ideals of the top and the often chaotic reality of everyday business. They synthesize the tacit knowledge of both front-line employees and senior executives, make it explicit, and incorporate it into new products and technologies. Their contribution points toward a model of management that is neither top-down nor bottom-up, but "middle-up-down". In this model, knowledge is engineered by middle managers, who are often leaders of a team or task force, through a spiral conversion process involving both the top and the front-line employees.
Coming from a rich research field that combines theoretical speculation and practical experience, this management book is unlike any other. In no other text you will find discussions on the philosophy of Descartes and Nishida juxtaposing figures depicting the mechanics of a disposable cartridge in a photocopier. The case studies are not just vignette illustrations reduced to their skeletal form, they are thick descriptions replete with technical specifications and biographical details of key participants. There are no laundry lists of implementable measures or mnemonics of keywords that conjure the image of an alphabet soup. Instead the theory is illustrated by rich diagrams and stories, emphasizing the role of pictures and metaphors in conveying knowledge in a non-verbal form. The Oxford University Press ought to be commended for bringing this volume, the first in a series, to the attention of a public that seldom gets management books worthy of a rereading.