Communication and context: collective tacit knowledge and practice in Japan's workplace ba

Ray, Tim and Little, Steve (2001). Communication and context: collective tacit knowledge and practice in Japan's workplace ba. Creativity and Innovation Management, 10(3) pp. 154–164.



In contrast to Schumpeter's "perennial gale of creative destruction" (Schumpeter 1976: 84), government–coordinated economic development in post–1945 Japan has owed more to informal (but binding) "rules of the game" (North 1990) that situate working, learning and innovation within the spaces delineated by tightly bounded company–as–family workplace organisations or 'ba' (which roughly means 'place' or 'interaction field'). Horizontal keiretsu groupings, together with fixed trading–patterns in supply and distribution chains, continue to support an interlocking 'steady state' economic structure in which new technologies tend to emerge from existing organisations. Shared experience within workplace ba generates tacit knowledge that is held in common by colleagues and retained as a potent tool for shaping future practice. It plays a vital role in facilitating 'friction free' communication amongst insiders, who can act as a group to ostracise and retaliate against agents who break their code. Long–term obligations link salaried male employees to their workplace ba. Consequently, autonomous boundary–spanning communities of practice, together with industry–university collaboration and other transient associations with outsiders, lack legitimacy. Cook and Brown's (1999) pluralist epistemology is used to compare Western interpretations of Mode 1 and Mode 2 knowledge (Gibbons et al 1994) with the privileged role that Japan's workplace ba accord to insider collective–tacit knowledge, which we tentatively call 'Mode 3' knowledge.

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