Organizational knowledge creation

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Organizational knowledge creation theory



Alternate name(s)

Theory of knowledge creation, Dynamic theory of organizational knowledge creation

Main dependent construct(s)/factor(s)


Main independent construct(s)/factor(s)


Concise description of theory

Nonaka’s (1994) dynamic theory of organizational knowledge creation holds that organizational knowledge is created through a continuous dialogue between tacit and explicit knowledge via four patterns of interactions, socialization, combination, internalization and externalization. Explicit knowledge is codified knowledge transmittable in formal, systematic language whereas tacit knowledge is personalized knowledge that is hard to formalize and communicate and deeply rooted in action, commitment and involvement in context (Polanyi 1962).

Socialization represents the interaction between individuals through mechanisms such as observation, imitation or apprenticeships. Combination involves combining explicit knowledge through meeting and conversation or using information systems. Internalization converts explicit knowledge into tacit knowledge whereas externalization converts tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge.

Organizational knowledge creation takes place when all four modes of knowledge conversion form a continual cycle triggered by such actions as team interactions, dialogue, metaphors, coordination, documentation, experimentation, and learning by doing, etc. Organizational knowledge creation can be viewed as an upward spiral process from the individual level to the collective group level, and then to the organizational level, sometimes to the interorganizational level.

Consistent with Nonaka’s dynamic theory of knowledge creation, Cook and Brown (1999) bridge the epistemology of possession with that of practice and suggest that organizational knowledge is created through the generic dancing between knowledge and knowing.

Explicit, tacit, individual and group knowledge are distinct forms of knowledge, each doing work the others cannot. While mere explicit knowledge is insufficient, without explicit knowledge, tacit knowledge conversion becomes a closed loop. While individuals possess part of what is known about a given domain, a body of knowledge is possessed by the organization and is drawn on in its actions, just as knowledge possessed by an individual is drawn on in his or her actions.

Knowing is the epistemic work done as part of action or practice, and is the interaction with the social and physical world, using knowledge as a tool. Knowing is dynamic, concrete and relational. The interplay of knowledge and knowledge can generate new knowledge and new ways of knowing in organizations.

Focusing on the knowedgeability of action connoting action, doing and practice, rather than knowledge connoting things, elements, facts, processes and dispositions, Orlikowski (2002) suggests that organizational knowing is constituted and reconstituted in practice. People engage in organizational practices, reproduce the knowing generated in those practices and reconstitute knowledgeability over time and across contexts.

This view of knowing in practice suggests a mutual constitution of knowing and practice that is depicted by the metaphor of drawing hands, each drawing the other while being drawn, indicating that knowing is an ongoing social accomplishment that is constituted and reconstituted in everyday practice.

Diagram/schematic of theory


Source: Nonaka, 1994


Source: Cook and Brown, 1999

Originating author(s)

Ikujiro Nonaka, Michael Polanyi

Seminal articles

Polanyi M. Tacit Knowing – "Its bearing on some problems of philosophy" Reviews of Modern Physics (34:4) 1962, pp 601-616.

Anderson, J. R. The Architecture of Cognition, 1983, Cambridge, MA” Harvard University Press.

Nonaka, I. "A Dynamic Theory of Organizational Knowledge Creation," Organization Science (5:1), Feb 1994, pp 14-37.

Nonaka, I., Umemoto, K., and Senoo, D. "From information processing to knowledge creation: A paradigm shift in business management," Technology in Society (18:2) 1996, pp 203-218.

Cook, S.D.N. & Brown, J. S. Bridging Epistemologies: The Generative Dance between Organizational Knowledge and Organizational Knowing. Organization Science, (10:4) 1999, pp. 381-400.

Originating area

Philosophy, Cognitive Psychology, Organizational Theory

Level of analysis

Individual, Group, Organization, Inter-organizational

IS articles that use the theory

Becerra-Fernandez, I. Sabherwal, R. Organizational Knowledge Management: A contingency perspective, Journal of Management Information Systems (18:1), 2001, 23-55.

Bonifacio, M., and Molani, A. "The richness of diversity in knowledge creation: An interdisciplinary overview," Journal of Universal Computer Science (9:6) 2003, pp 491-500.

Bryant, S.E. "The impact of peer mentoring on organizational knowledge creation and sharing - An empirical study in a software firm," Group and Organization Management (30:3), Jun 2005, pp 319-338.

Carrillo, J.E., and Gaimon, C. "Improving manufacturing performance through process change and knowledge creation," Management Science (46:2), Feb 2000, pp 265-288.

Chen, A.N.K., and Edgington, T.M. "Assessing value in organizational knowledge creation: Considerations for knowledge workers," MIS Quarterly (29:2), Jun 2005, pp 279-309.

Donaldson, L. "Reflections on knowledge and knowledge-intensive firms," Human Relations (54:7), Jul 2001, pp 955-963.

Janz, B.D., and Prasarnphanich, P. "Understanding the antecedents of effective knowledge management: The importance of a knowledge-centered culture," Decision Sciences (34:2), Spr 2003, pp 351-384.

Johnson, W.H.A., and Johnston, D.A. "Organizational knowledge creating processes and the performance of university-industry collaborative R&D projects," International Journal of Technology Management (27:1) 2004, pp 93-114.

Knight, G.A., and Liesch, P.W. "Information internalization in internationalizing the firm," Journal of Business Research (55:12), Dec 2002, pp 981-995.

Kodama, M. "New knowledge creation through leadership-based strategic community - a case of new product development in IT and multimedia business fields," Technovation (25:8), Aug 2005, pp 895-908.

Lee, H., and Choi, B. Knowledge management enablers, processes, and organizational performance: An integrative view and empirical examination. Journal of Management Information Systems. 20, 1 (2003), pp, 179-228.

Levin, D.Z., and Cross, R. "The strength of weak ties you can trust: The mediating role of trust in effective knowledge transfer," Management Science (50:11), Nov 2004, pp 1477-1490.

Linderman, K., Schroeder, R.G., Zaheer, S., Liedtke, C., and Choo, A.S. "Integrating quality management practices with knowledge creation processes," Journal of Operations Management (22:6), Dec 2004, pp 589-607.

Malhotra, A; Gosain, S; El Sawy, O. A. "Absorptive capacity configurations in supply chains: Gearing for partner-enabled market knowledge creation," MIS Quarterly (29:1), Mar 2005, pp 145-187.

Massey, AP; Montoya-Weiss, M. M. "Unraveling the temporal fabric of knowledge conversion: A model of media selection and use," MIS Quarterly (30:1), Mar 2006, pp 99-114.

McFadyen, M.A., and Cannella, A.A. "Social capital and knowledge creation: Diminishing returns of the number and strength of exchange relationships," Academy of Management Journal (47:5), Oct 2004, pp 735-746.

Nambisan, S., Agarwal, R., and Tanniru, M. "Organizational mechanisms for enhancing user innovation in information technology," MIS Quarterly (23:3), Sep 1999, pp 365-395.

Nonaka, I., and Konno, N. "The concept of "ba": Building a foundation for knowledge creation," California Management Review (40:3), Spr 1998, pp 40-54.

Nonaka, I., and Toyama, R. "The theory of the knowledge-creating firm: subjectivity, objectivity and synthesis," Industrial and Corporate Change (14:3), Jun 2005, pp 419-436.

Nonaka, I., Takeuchi, H., and Umemoto, K. "A theory of organizational knowledge creation," International Journal of Technology Management (11:7-8) 1996, pp 833-845.

Nonaka, I., Umemoto, K., and Senoo, D. "From information processing to knowledge creation: A paradigm shift in business management," Technology in Society (18:2) 1996, pp 203-218.

Orlikowski, W. J. Knowing in practice: Enacting a collective capability in distributed organizing. Organization Science, (13:3) 2002, pp. 249-273.

Ruiz-Mercader, J., Merono-Cerdan, A.L., and Sabater-Sanchez, R. "Information technology and learning: Their relationship and impact on organizational performance in small businesses," International Journal of Information Management (26:1), Feb 2006, pp 16-29.

Sabherwal, R., and Sabherwal, S. "Knowledge management using information technology: Determinants of short-term impact on firm value," Decision Sciences (36:4), Dec 2005, pp 531-567.

Schultze, U. "A confessional account of an ethnography about knowledge work," MIS Quarterly (24:1), Mar 2000, pp 3-41.

Scott, J.E. "Facilitating interorganizational learning with information technology," Journal of Management Information Systems (17:2), Fal 2000, pp 81-113.

Scott, J.E. "Organizational knowledge and the Intranet," Decision Support Systems (23:1), May 1998, pp 3-17.

von Krogh, G. "The communal resource and information systems," Journal of Strategic Information Systems (11:2), Jun 2002, pp 85-107.

Waters, J. "Achieving innovation or the Holy Grail: managing knowledge or managing commitment?" International Journal of Technology Management (20:5-8) 2000, pp 819-838.

Winter, S.G., and Szulanski, G. "Replication as strategy," Organization Science (12:6), Nov-Dec 2001, pp 730-743.

Links from this theory to other theories

Knowledge-based theory of the firm, Resource-based view of the firm, Information processing theory, Social capital theory, Social network theory, Social exchange theory, Structuration theory, Theory of The Growth of the Firm

External links, A description of the dynamic theory of knowledge creation, A description of organizational knowledge creation and the role of middle managers, Wikipedia entry on knowledge creation

Original Contributor(s)

Joyce Jin

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