Part II: Beyond Data: Embracing Wisdom-Creation Models

Prasad Kaipa 12 October, 2023


Continued from Part I

In today’s rapidly changing business landscape, leaders find themselves at the crossroads of data-driven decision-making and timeless wisdom. The question becomes: How can we harness the precision of modern data while being anchored in profound ancient insights? This part aims to blend the SECI model’s organizational brilliance with the deep layers of Indic wisdom.

The SECI Model: Grasping the Essence of Knowledge Creation

The SECI model, a brainchild of Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi, offers a nuanced understanding of knowledge creation and transfer in organizations. By navigating the oscillation between tacit and explicit knowledge, this framework has long been revered for its holistic approach.

Rooted in Japanese management theory, the SECI model stands as a testament to effective knowledge transfer. Companies like Toyota have seamlessly integrated this model into their operations. By encouraging workers to share tacit knowledge, then refining and systematizing this knowledge into best practices, they foster a culture of continuous improvement and innovation.

A Glimpse into the SECI Dynamics:

1.     Socialization (Tacit Sharing): Knowledge isn’t just transferred through documents or presentations. True, deep-rooted understanding often stems from interpersonal interactions, shared experiences, and direct engagements. For instance, apprentice models in various crafts rely heavily on this stage.

2.     Externalization (Articulation): Translating tacit insights into more tangible, explicit forms is a challenging yet essential step. Analogies, metaphors, and collaborative dialogues play pivotal roles here. Consider how brainstorming sessions in companies often bring out unspoken insights into actionable strategies.

3.     Combination (Systemization): Disparate chunks of explicit knowledge need to be synthesized into a coherent whole. Database management, organizational documentation, and team collaborations are manifestations of this phase.

4.     Internalization (Embodying): What’s learned explicitly should then be internalized, moving it back into the tacit realm, enriching personal insights and intuitions. Corporate training often aims at this, hoping that employees don’t just understand procedures but internalize company values and ethos.

While the SECI model offers a dynamic approach to knowledge creation, there’s an underlying layer, often overlooked, that can further enrich this framework. This is where the profound wisdom of Indic traditions enters the discourse.

4. The Indic Wisdom-Creation Paradigm: Delving Deeper into Knowledge’s Essence

Indic traditions offer a profound layered approach to understanding. Ayurveda, India’s ancient medicinal system, doesn’t merely address the obvious symptoms (Sthula). Instead, practitioners delve deeper, understanding the root causes (Karana) and the subtle energies (Sukshma) at play. This holistic view, when applied to business, can revolutionize how we approach problems and devise solutions.

At the heart of Indic philosophy lies a profound understanding of existence in layered dimensions—each layer offering its own realm of understanding and insight.

  1. Karana (Causal/Unmanifested): This foundational layer represents the essence of any knowledge form. It’s analogous to the guiding principles of a company or the fundamental philosophy of a school of thought. This is where the bedrock values and core insights reside, even if they aren’t always overtly acknowledged.
  2. Sukshma (Subtle/Tacit): This intermediary realm is where insights start crystallizing, yet they remain non-tangible. This could be likened to a company’s culture—felt and understood by its members, yet not always explicitly documented.
  3. Sthula (Gross/Manifested): At this juncture, wisdom takes a tangible form. It’s the actionable strategies, the explicit procedures, the clear guidelines.

A pivotal concept that enriches this Indic paradigm is the act of unlearning. It’s the conscious process of shedding outdated, often restrictive knowledge forms, enabling a rejuvenated return to the foundational karana. This cyclical process ensures a continuous renewal of wisdom, making it not just relevant but also deeply rooted in foundational truths.

In the next sections, we will juxtapose these models, carving out a blueprint for modern leaders—a guide that seamlessly integrates data’s precision with wisdom’s profundity. The goal? To shape organizations that are not just informed but are, at their very core, wise.

Synthesizing the SECI Model with Indic Wisdom: A Blueprint for Modern Leadership

When companies such as 3M encourage unfettered innovation, allowing employees to dedicate a portion of their time to free-thinking and exploration, they tap into the Karana realm. Innovations like the Post-it Note weren’t derived from direct market demand but rather from a space of deep introspection and creativity—a testament to the power of integrating SECI with Indic wisdom.

Marrying the SECI model with the depths of the Indic paradigm offers a richer, more profound compass for leaders.

Integrating the Karana Layer: Before the Socialization phase of the SECI model, leaders must immerse themselves in the Karana layer. This is akin to Google’s guiding principle, “Focus on the user and all else will follow,” which acts as a foundational bedrock for its diverse innovations. This introspective phase ensures subsequent knowledge creation aligns with the organization’s essence.

Enriching Internalization with Unlearning: The recruitment AI bias incident at Amazon in 2018 exemplifies the need for unlearning. Despite the data-driven strategy, the algorithm perpetuated systemic biases. Incorporating unlearning post-Internalization allows businesses like Amazon to reassess, shed outdated paradigms, and rejuvenate their approach.

A Call to Modern Leaders: Navigating the Dance between Data and Wisdom

Starbucks serves as a beacon for how businesses can balance data-driven strategies with deeper insights. While store locations, menu items, and marketing campaigns are shaped by meticulous data analysis, the company’s ethos of creating a “third place” for customers emerges from a profound understanding of human connection and community.

Holistic Decision-Making: Apple serves as a prime example. While their products’ designs might be influenced by consumer data, the overarching commitment to user-centric design and innovation reflects the deeper Karana-inspired introspection.

Innovative Depth: Tesla’s commitment to sustainable transport isn’t merely a reaction to market data but is rooted in a deeper vision for a sustainable future—a reflection of Karana-level wisdom. While data might guide iterations, such Karana-driven introspection ensures innovations are groundbreaking.

Resilient Adaptability: Airbnb’s “Experiences” feature is a testament to the cyclical nature of the integrated model. Beyond the quantitative data of room bookings, Airbnb tapped into a deeper desire for authentic experiences, reflecting a return to the Karana phase after internalizing market insights.

Conclusion: Charting the Future with Wisdom-Led Leadership

Patagonia offers a compelling conclusion. While data might suggest certain profitable trends in apparel, Patagonia’s commitment to sustainability and ethical production stems from a deeper foundational ethos. Their decisions, informed by data, are elevated by a profound wisdom that resonates with their consumer base.

In the delicate dance between data and wisdom, modern businesses must recognize that the two aren’t mutually exclusive. While data offers precision, wisdom provides direction. The challenge—and opportunity—for modern leaders is to harness both, shaping a future that’s not just data-informed but wisdom-led.

Acknowledgment: This article, enriched over three decades, owes a heartfelt thanks to Jonathan Gosling and Sudhanshu Palsule. Their insights and friendship have been the guiding lights, illuminating this path of exploration into Indian model of knowledge creation.

Prasad Kaipa

Co-founder, Institute of Indic Wisdom