Thursday, 12 October 2017

"Time out" for knowledge

The concept of "Ba" in knowledge management is often assumed to represent a physical or virtual space. But what if it represents a time, rather than a space?

The term Ba was introduced, in the KM context, by professor Nonaka as a place or a shared environment 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).  The Ba is a learning environment where interactions happen.

Ba is a Japanese term and as such, fuzzy in its meaning. In the west, Ba is often identified with Space - physical or virtual - and applied to office design, or to online platforms. Westerners see Ba as physical; for example wikipedia defines Ba as
"a physical or virtual collaborative space, where participants feel safe and exchange insights."

For me, there is another dimension of Ba which is more important, more valuable and often overlooked, 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 interactions and for learning from each other and exchanging insights, 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 reflect and to learn. Sure, we need the physical space, but more important (in many cases) is the protected shared time, dedicated to KM.  This can be

We need the time dimension of Ba - time dedicated to talking about knowledge, when people can feel safe and exchange insights.

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