Thursday, 4 October 2012

Protected time for KM - the time dimension of Ba

time out I must admit, I have always struggled with the concept of Ba in KM. Maybe it's too Japanese to be intuitively obvious to a country boy from Somerset, or maybe the concept has evolved since Nonaka first introduced it. The term describes a place, or a shared space, that serves as a foundation for the creation of individual and collective knowledge. Nonaka and Konno talk about four Bas - one for socilaisation (face to face), one for externalisation (peer to peer), one for combination (group to group) and one for internalisation (at the work site).

Some people have then taken the concept of Ba and applied it to office design, and others have applied it to online space.

For me, there is another dimension of Ba, and that is the time dimension.

Let me explain what I mean.

We recently conducted a knowledge management assessment of a busy company, and during the assessment we were asking about the transfer of knowledge through conversation. "Oh, we talk all the time" they said. "We have operational meetings every morning, team meetings once a week, we talk with the suppliers every week, our boss has a briefing once a day. we are always talking".

"But what do you talk about?" we asked. It turned out that they talk about progress, about issues, about plans, but never about what has been learned, or what needs to be learned. "Why don't you ever talk about learning?" we asked them. "Oh, we are too busy for that" they said. "We used to have meetings with other teams to find out what they were doing and why, but we got too busy and stopped that". So there used to be "safe time" (Ba) for learning from each other, but it was not protected, and it vanished.

The issue in a busy company is not physical space; it's protected time.

What this company needs to do, and what so many busy companies need to do, is to carve out safe time for knowledge management, otherwise it will be kicked off the agenda by busy short-term work, and the long-term value of learning will be lost. They need to be able to call "time-out" to learn. Sure, we need the physical space, but more important (in many cases) is the protected shared time, dedicated to KM. We need the time dimension of Ba.

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