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Distributed Knowledge Leadership Based on UKD, Ba, and SECI

I'm on the Spot to Practice Kung-Fu

25 November 2013

Distributed knowledge leadership is the way of life and work in the knowledge-economy age. It is based on the UKD (Unity of Knowing and Doing) philosophy by Wang Yang-Ming, the integrator of the Confucian philosophy, and the Ba theory and SECI (Socialization-Externalization-Combination-Internalization) model by Ikujiro Nonaka, the grandfather of Scrum and best known for his study of knowledge management. UKD, Ba, and Scrum have inner similarities. Perhaps Nonaka was influenced by Wang Yang-Ming.
  • Unity of Knowing and Doing is the I-Thou-It relationship about knowledge and action.
  • Ba (place in English or 场 in Chinese) is the shared "here-now" context for knowledge creation and usage. SECI comprises the knowledge creation steps associated with four kinds of Ba. (Only the general concept of Ba is discussed in this article. SECI and the four kinds of Ba are illustrated in the picture but will not be discussed in detail.)
  • Knowledge is a dynamic human process of justifying personal belief toward the truth.
  • In distributed knowledge leadership, power is distributed, knowledge is redefined, and the individual is empowered.

Unity of Knowing and Doing, as stated, is the I-Thou-It relationship about knowledge and action. Life is one's practice guided by one's thinking.
  • Knowing is about "I": myself, my mind, and my beliefs about the world including me, others, and the external world.
  • Doing is the relationships of "I-Thou" and "I-It," or the relationships with people and with the world. Ideas in my mind are implemented through the relationships of my inner and outer relationships.
  • The knowing and doing are united in three levels: I-It relationship: Does my idea work in the world? I-Thou relationship: Does my idea work in the relationship of you and me? I-I relationship: Does my practice enhance my confidence and belief? Belief is the starting point and end point of the unity of knowing and doing, or knowledge and action.
Unity of Knowing and Doing is about how to get knowledge and use knowledge. According to Wang Yang-Ming, Ba is the only way to get highest level of knowledge. It's about that I'm on the spot to practice kung-fu.

Once, when Wang Yang-Ming was on an excursion to Nan-Chen, a friend said, "According to your theory, existence is impossible outside of the mind. But consider a flower that blooms and withers by itself in a valley. What has it to do with the mind?" Wang replied, "Before you see the flower, both you and the flower are in a state of isolation. When you see the flower, its color and shape become clearer to you -- which means that knowledge of the flower cannot exist apart from the mind."

Knowledge is a dynamic human process of justifying personal belief toward the truth.
  • Knowledge in a book is information and is the lowest level of knowledge. Knowledge embedded in a craftsman's skills is the middle level of knowledge. The highest level of knowledge is associated with both your mind and body. It's called practical wisdom. It can be only acquired through one's own pure, high-quality, direct experience with contemplation or reflection on the experience of others. It's associated with belief, context, and practice. It's about know-what, know-why, and know-how together.
  • The highest level of knowledge is generated and used in real time. If it is not used at a specific time in a specific place, it is of no value. It spirals through the SECI cycle.
  • Knowledge creation is a self-transcendence process. The way to create knowledge is to get involved and transcend one's own limited perspective and the inner and outer boundaries of the self.
Ba is the shared "Here-Now" context for knowledge creation and usage.
  • Ba is a shared place for emerging human interactions. It can be physical Ba, such as an office; a virtual Ba, such as a teleconference; a mental Ba, such as shared experience; or any combination. The context in Ba includes time, space, relationship, dialogue, practice, and meaning. It is a space in a time for body and mind to come together to create knowledge.
  • Ba is the recognition of self in all. Self is freed to be a larger self, and knowledge can freely emerge. A CoP (Community of Practice), or a team working in a Scrum way, is a Ba. It enables people to find their selves within a larger entity. It supports the common good.
  • In Ba, people pursue goodness, identify vision, share objectives and feelings, grasp and express essence, find right answers, realize concepts, are aware of self and others, foster practical wisdom, respect diversity, and continuously spiral knowledge.
  • Ba is an environment for knowing and doing, dialogue and practice, and decision and action.
  • In the Toyota style of working, Ba is expressed in that people are at the actual place of work, know the actual product and situation, and are realistic.
Distributed knowledge leadership is the way of work and life in the knowledge-economy age.
  • Everyone is treated as a leader to create and use knowledge.
  • The knowledge leader is an idealistic pragmatist who knows the big purpose and takes detailed action.
  • Think and act to practice your mind as intellectual muscle.
  • Contribute, share, and learn in a team.
For an organization to cultivate distributed knowledge leadership, the key point is that top management should understand the value of distributed knowledge leadership and should understand, create, and maintain Ba.

For an individual, life is a BAT: from "Belief" through "Action" and Interaction toward the "Truth." Belief is Knowing. Action is Doing. The Truth is the Unity. It's the Unity of Knowing and Doing. (生命是一场旅行, 起于信, 履于行, 止于道.)

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

Article Rating

Current rating: 4.5 (2 ratings)


Glen Wang, CSM, 11/25/2013 3:37:25 AM
It's nice; it introduces some good concepts to the reading public.

I think you miss the basics of the Japanese notion of "ba". "Ba" is the potential that comes out of a *group*. In Japanese, it is more of a "coming together." It is NOT something that one cultivates by kung fu.

I think this is the major difference between Japanese and Chinese culture.

Jim Cope
Robert Weidner, CEC,CTC,CSP,CSM,CSPO, 11/25/2013 10:25:58 AM
This has similarities to Ken Wilber's mapping work, where he identifies "The Four Quadrants in Humans". The first quadrant is "I" (Self & Consciousness); the second is "It" (Brain & Organism); the third "Its" (Social System & Environment); and the fourth is "We" (Culture & Worldview). Within each quadrant he then identifies a series of levels, and in some cases periods, that are like evolutionary ladders which examine both the individual, and their role within the collective. Recently, Ken has begun to take the philosophical underpinnings of this model, and apply it to the realm of organizational theory. If you are interested, I would recommend the audio recording "Kosmic Counsciousness" from SoundsTrue, which is a 12-hour interview with Ken that does an excellent job of explaining the theory, and his overall "map-making" process.
Glen Wang, CSM, 11/25/2013 8:36:39 PM
I find your article very interesting and useful. I have studied the concept of Ba for some time, trying to get my head around the meaning and use of it. Your article helps me a couple of steps forward.

I find the concept of Ba intriguing, since it is a highly collaborative (at least at some important levels), collective, contextually dependent instantiations of a set of values and beliefs. The observable acts that are done in a/during Ba, cannot (relevantly) be copied to another context. It comes, as I understand it, from a mindset of the individuals and the group.

I have a strong feeling that this perspective (a strong emphasis on knowledge generation) is essential to succeeding with Agile. Ba stems, in my conception, from values and culture - aspects that are to a large extent present only, at best, implicitly in Scrum. That might be perfectly alright. Being harder to "implement" or "transfer" from one subject to another, culture and values perhaps aren't really suitable for being part of a framework that comes in such a neat off-the-shelf, ready-to-go package as Scrum does. There is a problem with this however. Scrum without Ba, well, that's just a car without the engine. Which means an awful lot of people out there are buying an awful lot of cars without engines...

It was not my intention to be a Scrum-basher, here - sorry about that :) The main point is: I find the concept of Ba being a strong model to describe and grow the kind of culture necessary for knowledge generation and -use, being so crucial for successful collaborative knowledge work.

Thank you!

By Johannes Nordh, Agile Coaching group of LinkedIn

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