What's the Secret to Managing Innovation? Eastern Philosophy Says <i>Ba</i>

Last Updated Nov 26, 2008 8:08 AM EST

The Takeaway: There have been a lot of prescriptions offered to help get American business out of the current slump, but one remedy that hasn't been much discussed is on offer from Ikujiro Nonaka, a Japanese business guru endorsed by the Wall Street Journal as one of its 20 most influential business thinkers. His suggestion: more ba.
What on earth is ba? The hard to translate concept is something close to 'flow,' the mental state you fall into when you're entirely immersed in what you're doing, but with one key difference. Ba is communal. The Strategy + Business article explains:
Unlike flow, ba is never solitary; it exists among two or more people.... Ba can occur in a work group, a project team, an ad hoc meeting, a virtual e-mail list, or at the frontline point of contact with customers. It serves as a petri dish in which shared in­sights are cultivated and grown.
If your company is in the business of creating knowledge, than Nonaka believes you can benefit from more ba. How do you get it? "By designing processes that encourage people to think together."

The short takeaway is that managers who watch the clock whenever their workers take a communal break may be penny wise, but pound foolish - saving money in the short term but hurting the long term outlook by limiting employees' ability to generate knowledge together. In brief: don't time coffee breaks. Instead, strive to create a more informal atmosphere "in which generosity is prevalent, people feel recognized as distinct individuals, and informal, honest communication is commonplace."

However, if the idea interests you, there are deeper insights available in the lengthy article on how western managers privilege hard, quantifiable information over more nebulous types of experiential understanding and the costs they pay for doing so. It's well worth a read.

The Question: Western managers talk back: how do you encourage your team to create knowledge?

(Image of flow by muha..., CC 2.0)

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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.