This article explains the concept of SECI Model of Knowledge Dimensions, developed by Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi in a practical way. The model is about knowledge sharing and the knowledge conversion process that occur at all levels of organizations. After reading it, you will understand the basics of this knowledge theory.
What is the SECI Model of Knowledge Dimensions?
The model was designed by Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi to understand the natural mechanism of knowledge creation and how such a process can be managed. The SECI Model of Knowledge Dimensions identifies four ways of how knowledge can be combined and transferred, and thus, how knowledge is shared in the organization. These ways are later described underneath after an explanation of the basic idea of knowledge creation.
The SECI Model of Knowledge Dimensions is based on two types of knowledge, explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge. Explicit knowledge refers to knowledge that can easily be transferred to others and can easily be codified, assessed, and verbalized. An example is information derived from books, papers, documents, and databases. This type of knowledge can easily be retrieved, stored, verbalized and transferred to others. Tacit knowledge is the opposite of Explicit Knowledge. It refers to knowledge that is difficult to transfer to others, and that is difficult to codify, assess, and verbalize. It is many times experience based and include values, skills, and capabilities.
An example is the ability to speak a language. Due to the rules of languages, learning a language is demanding and requires time to reach a certain level to speak and write. It is for this reason almost impossible to transfer this knowledge to other people without practicing.
Ikujiro Nonaka considers two dimensions for knowledge creation, the epistemological dimension, and the ontological dimension. The epistemological dimension converses tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge and vice versa, and ontological dimension emphasis the conversion of knowledge from individuals to groups and organizations. In addition, the SECI Model of Knowledge Dimensions assumes that knowledge is created by a conversion between tacit- and explicit knowledge, and hence, identifies four modes of knowledge conversions in organizations.
Since knowledge is continually obtained and converted by practicing, collaborating, interacting, and learning, the SECI Model of Knowledge Dimensions visualize a spiral in the model. For this reason, the model demonstrates to be a continuous process that takes place in all organizations.
Modes of knowledge conversions
At this level, knowledge is converted from tacit to tacit. Knowledge is moreover transferred through practice, guidance, and observation but knowledge is many times obtained through a dialogue. The process begins with someone who do not have a particular knowledge but who acquired the knowledge from someone who has the knowledge. The conversion basically tells us that technical skills can be socialized. This means that individuals can share knowledge by interaction, observation, and practicing.
At this level, knowledge is converted from tacit to explicit. The mechanism of how this work could be difficult because sometimes tacit knowledge cannot be codified. However, suppose it could be codified, tacit knowledge is specified in words and put into manuals or other documents so that it can easily be shared among members in the organization.
Combination is the process of systematizing concepts into a knowledge system. At this level, knowledge is converted from explicit to explicit. This means that existing sources such as books, documents, memos are used and combined to create new knowledge such as a report for example. This mode of knowledge conversion is additionally many times easily facilitated by online data bases because explicit knowledge is everywhere available online. Higher education is a great example, because at school, existing knowledge is used to create new knowledge.
In the internalization process explicit knowledge is converted into tacit knowledge. Explicit knowledge is derived from sources and learned by processing the obtained information. The knowledge is next internalized, meaning that that the existing knowledge is being modified. Internalization occurs when individuals read and write about what they experience. This process is additionally realized when organization share explicit documents so that employees can learn through reading and eventually by doing.
Practical example of the SECI Model of Knowledge Dimensions
As described, knowledge sharing occurs continuously at all levels and different types of organizations. Consider the following example of Katherine, an intern at a Michelin star restaurant.
Katherine works next to the best chefs. She is guided and directed by experienced cooks, and thus, continually receives feedback on how to improve. Katherine learns by listening, observing, and doing. All information is transferred by interaction, and hence, tacit to tacit knowledge sharing is realized.
After several months working as an intern, Katherine now learned specific cooking techniques and how to make several dishes. She is for example specialized in appetizers and received positive feedback of her cooking. Katherine decides to design a mini-cookbook for appetizers. She writes down the recipes she learned and include the necessary ingredients and steps involved to make the dishes. She next shares her mini-cookbook with her class at school to receive feedback on her work. Katherine’s tacit knowledge is now codified in her book which she has shared with her class.
Katherine later received feedback from her class who argue that the cookbook lack information on how particular machinery works to create some dishes successfully. She decided to compare online manuals of different machinery that were needed to make the dishes. She next standardized the texts and icons and made a summary to include in her mini-cookbook so that people do not have to read all the manuals of different type of machines. Katherine’s usage of online databases enabled her to edit her book. Thus, explicit to explicit knowledge conversion has occurred because she is used existing knowledge to create a summary to add in her book.
Katherine received recognition for her work at and after her placement. She was next requested to lecture and assisting first-year students at her school. The knowledge she obtained in her study, research, and experience, could now be shared with other students Katherine currently converses her explicit knowledge into tacit knowledge by lecturing the new students.
Now it’s your turn
What do you think? Do you recognize the practical explanation of the SECI Model of Knowledge Dimensions or do you have more additions? Does your organisation make use of this model? Are there tips and tricks you would like to share?
Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.
- Hoe, S. L. (2006). Tacit knowledge, Nonaka and Takeuchi SECI model and informal knowledge processes. International Journal of Organization Theory & Behavior, 9(4), 490-502.
- Ngulube, P. (2003). Using the SECI knowledge management model and other tools to communicate and manage tacit indigenous knowledge. Innovation, 27(1), 21-30.
- Nonaka, I., & Konno, N. (2005). Knowledge Creation. Knowledge Management: Critical Perspectives on Business and Management, 2(3), 53.
- Nonaka, I., Toyama, R., & Konno, N. (2000). SECI, Ba and leadership: a unified model of dynamic knowledge creation. Long range planning, 33(1), 5-34.
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