Monday 5 September 2022

What the C in the SECI model really refers to

Most of us are familiar with the SECI model from Nonaka and Takeuchi, but sometimes forget that C stands for Combination, not Collection.

Image from wikimedia commons
The Nonaka and Takeuchi SECI model for knowledge development is well known in the KM world, with its 4 components of  Socialisation, Externalisation, Combination and Internalisation.  

Nowadays many people assume that Externalisation means Documentation (which is not strictly true - it is more likely to represent the articulation of knowledge which was previously unspoken), but what about the C box? What do we assume this means?

According to the Wikipedia site linked above. the C box involves

Explicit to explicit by Combination (organizing and integrating knowledge), combining different types of explicit knowledge, for example building prototypes. The creative use of computerized communication networks and large-scale databases can support this mode of knowledge conversion. Explicit knowledge is collected from inside or outside the organisation and then combined, edited or processed to form new knowledge. The new explicit knowledge is then disseminated among the members of the organization

The key word here is Combination. Explicit knowledge gets combined with other explicit knowledge, seeking out links and resolving contradiction, and culminating in better knowledge or even new knowledge.

According to Nonaka, the combination mode of knowledge conversion is ‘a process of assembling new and existing explicit knowledge held by individuals into a knowledge system’ - a systemic approach to new knowledge development involving the combination of what is known by individuals.

The C box does not stand for "collection".

Collecting databases of documents is not part of the SECI development model (although collection is often a precursor to combination). It actually involves synthesis - connecting, combining and synthesising knowledge into something new, integrated and better.

Combination might be the Wiki article that summarises and synthesises a whole series of reports, or it might be the improved procedure that comes from combining new Lessons Learned, or it might be the checklist created by a Community of Practice discussion.

If all you are doing is collecting documents, then your knowledge flow and knowledge development has got stuck at this stage. A realisation of the importance of Combination and Synthesis often develops late in the KM journey, but it doesn't have to. Combination should be part of your KM framework from the start. 

The Combination of knowledge is a powerful part of the model, and is often overlooked when an organisation focuses only on collecting and tagging documents into a repository.

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