Nonaka and Takeuchi LO2027

Michael McMaster (
Mon, 10 Jul 1995 22:07:44 +0000

Replying to LO1962 --
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Chun Wei Choo cites Nonaka and Takeuchi and their book and articles
and then asks, "Do I have any comments?" Yeah - I think they're
wrong. More accurately, I think they have taken only a small part -
and not a very original part - and made a big deal out of it while
claiming to have done something important. Maybe I'm being too blunt
but I'm having to deconstruct their stuff because I keep running into
it and it's a lot of work for not much content - in my frustrated

Now I suppose I'd better back some of this up. Before I do, I
acknowledge that they have lots of the pieces right. I just think
they've put them together in a trivial way that is still deeply
embedded in the thinking that they are arguing against.

One of my greatest beefs is their use of the term "knowledge". They
use it in so many different ways without making a clear operational
definition that they are intending that there is little rigour left
in their writing/thinking. In particular they use the term to cover
a result of historical process - knowledge as a thing - and the
process of gaining information and knowledge.

I also object to their trashing of Taylor, Senge and most
organisational thinkers. While there may be much to complain about
in any and all of these, there is also much to acknowledge. Most of
what is missing from the earlier thinkers in particular is about 50
years of technology and major advances in thinking - and little else.

OK. Let's handle a few specifics. The following statement seems to
be the heart of the matter.
> >Tacit (implicit) knowledge cannot be converted into explicit
> >knowledge.

To be accurate, some of what is tacit can be converted. A tiny
percentage of the whole. Why a tiny percentage? Because every word,
every statement, every theory has a vast history of culture, language
conventions, physical structure, cross-referencing thought, etc which
cannot ever be made explicit. So a bit of what is implicit can be
made explicit. And some of this is useful in learning. But there is
much more embedded, implied, assumed and presupposed than will ever
be touched on explicitly.

I suggest that the job is to make the implicit available - very
different from explicit in many cases - and to make the implicit
manifest. There is often little need for much of it to be explicit.
When I learn by observing and copying, much of what I learn never
goes through the explicit stage.

My other big beef is that they continually claim to be taking the
ground of "organisational knowledge" but they keep falling back into
individual phenomena. This is only one of the many instances where
they are locked into the assumptions, language and models that they
are decrying - and they seem very unaware of their own
presuppositions. (ie. their ideas about "truth")

I also maintain that it is very useful to consider that we can't even
share information - so their claims about knowledge don't make it
with me.

> ... 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.

I consider this a limited case and both too trivial and too
peripheral to make such a big deal out of. (When I was writing about
and leading NLP courses 15+ years ago we were saying this as a part
of learning and personal mastery - but even then and in that context
it wasn't everything.)

What makes it peripheral is that little of what the authors are on
about will stand any close scrutiny based in their own theory. A bit
of hermeneutics will reveal that there was far more than ever met the
eye and will always be. The pursuit of the pathways being offered
won't produce the results - even though some of the processes and
structures are good.

I think they are trying too hard to make a case rather than merely
contribute to the body of thinking that is developing around
organisational learning, knowledge and intelligence. If they weren't
taking on the whole thing and making themselves right, they'd be more
interesting and get into less trouble for sloppy distinctions.

Michael McMaster <>