“Ba” is a Japanese concept meaning a shared space that serves as a foundation for the creation of individual and collective knowledge. Nonaka and Takeuchi built on the concept in their influential book, The Knowledge Creating Company a few years back.
The SECI Cycle of Knowledge Creation
In that book they advanced a “dynamic theory of knowledge creation” embodied in their SECI cycle of tacit to explicit knowledge creation. In the model organizational knowledge is created and grows through a cycle of Socialization, Externalization, Combination and Internalization
Nonaka considered that “Ba” was the context in which the knowledge assets of an organization were created shared, and utilized through informal interaction. According to Nonaka, a different type of Ba is associated with each stage of the knowledge creation cycle. This includs Originating ba (socialization), Interacting ba (externalization) Cyber ba (combination) and Exercising ba (internalization)
Ba and Management Development
In my search for informal learning services for the training function I came across a simple and powerful program that might be consider a Ba approach to management development. The program, called Coaching Ourselves is founded by leading management thinker Henry Mintzberg of McGill University and Phil LeNir.
The Coaching Ourselves program is built around groups of managers, usually four to seven, meeting together on topics drawn from content authored by Minztberg and other leading management thinkers such as David Ulrich, Michael Beer, Marshall Goldsmith. The sessions are self-structured by the management team and are built on the action learning approach I described here (without the facilitator). The Coaching Ourselves web site illustrates the learning approach like this:
According to the website:
“Through Coaching Ourselves, managers develop themselves as individuals, the group develops as a team, and together they undertake initiatives that change their organization
- Participants bring their every day experiences, Coaching Ourselves topics provide the concepts
- Managers learn as they reflect on their experiences in light of the conceptual material
- The learning is carried back to work for impact.
- Insights from new experiences feed into subsequent sessions“
The SECI model and Ba are concepts firmly rooted in the informal end of the learning continuum I described here. The loose structure of the Coaching Ourselves program might place it in the middle of the continuum as a “non-formal” learning program.
In my view it offers managers a way to bring their own experience to the table as they interact with their colleagues and the expert content provided by leading management thinkers. It puts learning in their own hands and embeds it in their day to day work. It also fosters management learning as a continuous endeavor rather than the one shot learning experience of many structured management programs. Use of collaborative technologies would allow managers to continue the conversations outside of the meeting room (a virtual ba) and extend the reach of the discussions beyond geographic boundaries.
The connection to SECI and Ba was made for me by one of the participants in the program whose feedback was:
“The sessions have become a precious ‘Ba’ where ‘lonely’ managers can reflect on their management style and talk with their colleagues frankly.”
Mr. Kentaro Iijima, Managing Director of SSL Fugitsu, Japan
Here’s an introduction to the Coaching Ourselves program from Henry Mintzberg:
H. Shimizu, “Ba-Principle: New Logic for the Real-time Emergence of Information,” Holonics, 5/1 (1995):67-69
Nonaka, I., and Toyama, R. (2003). ‘The knowledge-creating theory revisited: knowledge creation as a synthesizing process’. Knowledge Management Research & Practice, Vol 1, pp 2-10.
The International Masters Program in Practicing Management (The MBA alternative from which the Coaching Ourselves program is derived)