Cultural patterns and knowledge creation

I’ve been thinking about the relation between the different cultural patterns of software organizations and the model of explicit and tacit knowledge that Nonaka and Takeuchi present in their book The Knowledge-Creating Company.

Oblivious and Variable cultures lean heavily on tacit knowledge – the knowledge that cannot be articulated well, know-how, knowledge in the heads of the people who do the work. In Variable cultures, sharing of knowledge doesn’t take place in a controlled way, but by diffusion and chance. The master-apprentice model is an important means of knowledge transfer. In an Oblivious culture, there is usually no knowledge transfer to speak of.

A Routine culture focuses on explicit knowledge – explicit procedures, routines, methods, documented e.g. in handbooks. Knowledge is transferred by documenting everything and having people read the documents.

In a Steering culture both tacit and explicit knowledge play an important role – you need both to be effective. Processes are usually understood, but not always completely defined. People in a Steering culture know that you can document certain aspects of products and processes, but they also acknowledge that you need other means of knowledge sharing as well. You can recognize this in several agile practices, like pair programming, having the team in one room, and daily standup meetings.

Anticipating and Congruent cultures focus on creating knowledge from the interaction between tacit and explicit knowledge, like Nonaka and Takeuchi describe in their book. They describe organizational knowledge creation as spiralling between tacit and explicit knowledge and between different levels within (and beyond) the organization – individual, group, organization, inter-organization.

I’d like to explore this more in depth in future blog entries. In the mean time, if you have any ideas or experiences you’d like to share, please let me know.