PMLLblog summary of Knowledge Conversion

A key element of KM is the knowledge conversion process. Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995) developed four modes of knowledge conversion based on cognitive psychology known as the SECI model (socialization – tacit to tacit / externalization – tacit to explicit / combination – explicit to explicit / internalization – explicit to tacit). They also state that the knowledge transformation is interactive and spiral based. They further note that an organisations knowledge is produced in a active and continuous interaction between explicit and tacit knowledge. When consideration is given to the enabling conditions of the four modes of knowledge, Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995) derived an integrated five phase model of an organisational knowledge conversion process. The difficulty of transferring tacit to explicit knowledge on projects is frequently discussed and most authors refer to the importance of externalisation mode of the SECI model (Bresnen et al. 2003; Fernie et al. 2003; Holste & Fields 2010; Keen & Tan 2007; Nonaka 2007; Nousala, Hall & John 2007; Reich & Wee 2006).

Firestone and McElroy (2003) indicate that the SECI model (Nonaka & Takeuchi 1995) may be incomplete. The oversight is that the SECI model neglects to consider ‘implicit’ knowledge. Firestone and McElroy (2003) maintain that tacit knowledge is inexpressible and there can be no conversion from tacit to explicit, whereas implicit knowledge can be converted to explicit. Keen and Tan (2007, p. 4) refer to implicit knowledge as ‘…what we take for granted, rarely think about and are surprised to find that others do not share’. Srikantaiah et al. (2010, p. ix) refers to implicit knowledge as ‘…knowledge that is not captured in documentary form but in practice could be’. Polanyi (1958) makes reference to implicit knowledge so it is interesting to note that Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995) made no provision for implicit knowledge. Wilson (2002), Keen and Tan (2007) and Srikantaiah et al. (2010) propose to include implicit knowledge as the link between explicit and tacit knowledge. Additionally, Day (2005) states that implicit and tacit knowledge are often synonymous terms and he attempts to clear up the implications for KM. The challenge with knowledge conversion and the lessons learned process is the ability to capture and transfer/disseminate the tacit/implicit knowledge subject as the KM project management process is primarily explicit in nature.

What are your thoughts on Knowledge Conversion? Have I missed something?

The next post will focus on Learning and Organisational Learning.


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