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The Ba concept

A Japanese approach of KM : the Ba concept




By Jean-Yves Prax, October 2002

(JPG) This a summary of keynotes and meetings in Tokyo, during a seminar organized by the KMSJ (Knowledge Management Society of Japan) and the Hitotsubashi Institute (I. Nonaka et Takeuchi). We are grateful to the French Embassy in Japan (Sciences and Technologies Exchange service) for its support. The French delegation was made of Professor Pierre Fayard, from the University of Poitiers (his works on Japanese knowledge creation concepts are quoted below), Joel Frigière, Knowledge Manager at Arcelor and Jean-Louis Ermine, expert at CEA.

Summary

Collective knowledge creation is tightly related to group psychology concepts, which, themselves, have their roots very deep in our societies values and cultural characteristics. That said it is easy to understand that groups behaviors are not the same whether they are made of north Americans, French or Japanese.

This short text introduces us to the Ba concept . This is something quite impossible to translate in French or in English because it really belongs to the very core of the Japanese culture. As a definition, we could try to say that Ba describe knowledge exchanges modes within a group or a community.

Nonakas keynote(GIF)

"To tell you the truth, I don’t know what knowledge is"

"Knowledge is a dynamic human/social process of justifying personal belief and skill toward the truth. But there is probably no way to reach the truth ; truth is embedded in real life."

Leveraging this traditional humble feeling, Nonaka classifies human emotions at the very core of any collective knowledge creation dynamic :

"Ba is Place-Time-People, a dynamic relation in context that enables creation of an Atmosphere : Shared context in motion Emotions and truth are changing rapidly ; we must share deep thoughts, not explicit knowledge.

Ba does not seek for simplification but complexity ; it provides enabler for :

- Clear and shared vision and goals,
- leadership,
- incentive system,
- place,
- technologies."

Nonakas matrix

(JPG) This process is based on the spiral principle illustrated by the well-known Nonakas SECI matrix . (see on the left)












Meeting with I. Nonaka
photo by Joël Frigière

Pierre Fayard describes the Ba concept through etymology. :
Ba is a two sided Kanji character. Its left side have something to do with the idea of boiling water, or a lifting power. Its right side relates to an enabling factor. On one hand, this character means an action potential. On the other hand, Ba refers to a driving force, which sets a direction. One describes as good Ba superior relational situations where everyone brings energy to the others, enhancing creativity and supporting dynamic and positive exchanges. Ba can be figured out as an environment where people (action potential) who invest themselves in, experience a qualitative improvement. From this point of view, a Ba showcases itself as a collective level of awareness, always evolving thru internal exchanges inside a group and with its partners.

The key points,
At the core of the Ba concept, we see a commitment to respect the differences ; to debate opposite points of view. Unlike the European or North American ways, the goal is not to simplify things to comply with a rational schema (if... then&else&). Rather than that, Ba calls for an effort to create a new concept which will be the top of the pyramid, taking in account all the ideas and all the complexity that have nurtured it.



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