Emergent Learning LO1986

David E. Birren, MB/5, 608.267.2442 (BIRRED@dnr.state.wi.us)
Fri, 7 Jul 1995 08:30 CST

Responding to Chun Wei Choo in LO1962 - Re: Emergent Learning

First, the references:

Mike McMaster said (as captured by Choo): [...reference corrected by your
host, Mike said this in LO1944 after retelling John Seeley Brown's

>Tacit (implicit) knowledge cannot be converted into explicit
>knowledge. I make this as an absolute statement for its power in
>declaring it that way. I'm sure some will find exception but the
>exception do not invalidate the statement because it is a pragmatic
>one. When you can show that what I declared is *frequently* not the
>case, then you have something of interest - to me at least.

Choo responded:

>This seems to run counter to the book I have been reading by Nonaka and
>Takeuchi, "The Knowledge Creating Company" (Oxford Univ Press, 1995). N &
>T suggest that the fundamental reason for the success of Japanese
>companies is their ability to convert tacit knowledge to explicit
>knowledge and then back again. They describe the process as a dynamic
>knowledge conversion cycle. In fact they insist that knowledge while it
>remains personal or tacit, is of limited leverage to the organization.
>Only after it is "externalized" into explicit knowledge and "combined"
>with other explicit knowledge would the organization derive maximum
>benefit. They imply that Japanese and other knowledge-creating companies
>"frequently" and continually engage in the knowledge conversion cycle.
>Nonaka has presented this argument (or parts thereof) a few times before
>in places like the Harvard Business Review, Organization Science, Sloan
>Mgm Review, etc.

I would agree that the conversion can and does take place. However, it
becomes severely limited by language. What I know of the Buddhist
tradition tells me that direct experience cannot be communicated; what is
communicated is a distillation of the experience, a filtering, rather than
its full richness. So I'd say Mike is correct (using my own words) that
the true essence of what we experience cannot be conveyed to another
person. But I would also say that Choo is correct that knowledge can be
conveyed. The resolution of this paradox is in the difference between
profound (implicit) understanding and "objective" knowledge (perhaps
better referred to as information).

I may not be saying this very well and invite anyone who thinks s/he sees
the point to help clarify it.

David E. Birren                              Phone:    (608)267-2442
Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources         Fax:      (608)267-3579
Bureau of Management & Budget                Internet: birred@dnr.state.wi.us
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It is not necessary to change; survival is not mandatory.
--W. Edwards Deming