Ikujiro Nonaka is a management scholar and global authority on matters of organizational theory, knowledge creation, and innovation, with particular focus on the innovation process of Japanese companies. He is Professor Emeritus of Hitotsubashi University and conducts research activities at Hitotsubashi University Business School, School of International Corporate Strategy. Nonaka is globally known as the ‘guru’ of knowledge-based management, having proposed several concepts and theories on organizational knowledge creation processes and leadership since the 1980s.
Nonaka founded the field of knowledge-based management through his theory of organizational knowledge creation. The center piece of his theory is known as the “SECI model,” which explains how an organization creates new knowledge and value to bring about innovation and organizational transformation. He sheds the light on the notion of “tacit knowledge” and dynamic model of knowledge-based management in times where the organizational theory revolved around the static model of management and organizational affair. The application of his theory of knowledge creation is not confined to the realm of business but also to the field of government and society, as it touches the fundamental principles of how a group of human beings empathize and experience things with each other to create new values and meanings.
Nonaka's contribution to management studies lies in his attempt to integrate management and philosophy. He was influenced early on by Herbert Simon's model of information processing, but he discovered that organizational improvement and innovation were not based on information processing, but on organizational knowledge creation. Since Nonaka’s theory is centered around the idea of "knowledge," his research incorporates many philosophical thoughts such as Aristotle's concept of practical wisdom and Edmund Husserl's phenomenology.
Nonaka's theory has been constantly evolving and has disseminated many pragmatic concepts. These include the concept of “Ba”, shared context in motion; “Wise leadership” based on Aristotle's notion of phronesis; “Middle-up-down management,” which enables everybody to manage their organization together; and “Knowledge maneuverability”, inspired by the U.S. Marine Corps, the ultimate from of an innovative organization.
Recently, Nonaka has presented the concept of humanizing strategy, arguing that management and strategy should essentially be about the " a way of life" and human beings as dynamic, value-creating agents. The latest concept is “Dynamic duality,” which advocates for the way of thinking to comprehend the structure and balance between seemingly contradictory elements in management, rather than to eliminate the contradiction by choosing one and eliminating the other.
Nonaka's theory has been widely applied in various business realms. Most notably, the "Scrum” method of agile software development was inspired by the 1986 journal article called “The New New Product Development Game” on the "scrum (rugby)" method, which was modeled after the organizational structure that brought about innovation one after another in the era of "Japan as number one."
Myriad of companies have applied Nonaka's Knowledge Creation Theory to their management practices. Among them, Eisai Co., Ltd., one of the leading pharmaceutical companies in Japan, has established a "Knowledge Creation Department" to promote organizational knowledge creation activities. The company also asks employees to devote 1% of their working hours to "socialization(empathizing)" activities to acquire tacit knowledge through direct experience.
Nonaka's theory has been applied globally. For example, in 2004, JICA initiated an annual 10-day training program for vice-ministers and director-generals of ministries and agencies in ASEAN countries. 220 vice-ministers and director-generals have participated in the program over 11 years, and 35 organizations in Southeast Asian countries have applied the program to their public administration. In eight countries (Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Laos, and Myanmar), almost all organizations that play a central role in capacity building for senior government officials (central and local governments) and policy research have participated. Nonaka himself has directly lectured to approximately 1,900 government officials between 2004 and 2009. Other countries in Scandinavia, Italy, Spain, and China have also created their own institutions to research and disseminate knowledge creation theory.
Nonaka has won wide-ranging recognition for his work in developing the theory of Knowledge-based Management. In 2002, he was conferred with a Purple Ribbon Medal by the Japanese government and elected a member of the Fellows Group of the Academy of Management in the United States, becoming the first Asian scholar among the Group’s members. Nonaka was ranked number 20th in the Wall Street Journal’s “Most Influential Business Thinkers (May 5, 2008).” In Autumn 2010, he was conferred with the Zuihōshō, or The Order of the Sacred Treasure, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon, for outstanding achievement, and long service and contributions to education. In June 2012, Nonaka received the Eminent Scholar Award from the Academy of International Business (AIB). In November 2013, he was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award by Thinkers50, which is given to someone who has had a long-term impact on the way people think about and practice management. He was elected as a member of the Japan Academy in January 2016. Nonaka received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, on November 3, 2017, during the school’s annual gala.
- Sekai wo Odorokaseta “Scrum” Keiei(Managing by “Scrum”), Nikkei BP,2023.
- Sippai no Honsitsu wo Kataru,Nikkei Premire Shinsho,2022.
- Dr Kazuo Inamori’s Management Praxis and Philosophy: A Response to the Profit-Maximisation Paradigm(The Nonaka Series on Knowledge and Innovation)(with Kimio Kase and Eugene Choi), Palgrave Macmillan,2022.
- Yasei no Keiei (with Hideki Kawada and Yumiko Kawada), KADOKAWA,2022 (in Japanese)
- Management by Eidetic Intuition: A Dynamic Management Theory Predicatedon the "Philosophy of Empathy"(The Nonaka Series on Knowledge and Innovation) (with Ichiro Yamaguchi),Palgrave Macmillan,2021.
- Chitoku-Kokka no Leadership(with Shinichi Kitaoka), Nihon Keizai Shuppan, 2021 (in Japanese).
- Kyokan ga Mirai wo Tsukuru (with co-authors), Chikura-shobo, 2021(in Japanese).
- Empathy-driven Management (with A.Katsumi), Nihon Keizai Shuppan,2020 (in Japanese).
- The Wise Company: From Knowledge Management to From Knowledge Practice(with H.Takeuchi), Toyokeizaishimpo-sha, 2020 (in Japanese).
- The Essence of Chi-Ryaku(with co-authors), Nihon Keizai Shimbun Shuppan-sha, 2019 (in Japanese).
- The Wise Company: How Companies Create Continuous Innovation (withH. Takeuchi), Oxford University Press, 2019.
- Management by Eidetic Intuition(with I.Yamaguchi), KADOKAWA , 2019(in Japanese).
- Knowledge Forum Kougi-Roku, Toyokeizaishimpo-sha, 2018(inJapanese).
- Soichiro Honda, PHP Kenkyu-sha, 2017(in Japanese).
- The Essence of Knowledge Maneuverability, Chuokoronshin-sha,2017(in Japanese).
- Zen-in Keiei (with A. Katsumi), Nihon Keizai Shimbun Shuppan-sha,2015 (in Japanese).
- Phronesis and Quiddity in Management: A School of Knowledge Approach(with co-authors). Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.
- The Essence of Nation Management (with co-authors), Nihon Keizai Shimbun Shuppan-sha, 2014 (in Japanese).
- Jissen Social Innovation(with co-authors), Tokyo: Chikura Shobo,2014 (in Japanese).
- The Essence of Great Judgements (with S. Ogino), Tokyo:Diamond-sha, 2014 (in Japanese).
- Ajile Kaihatsu to Scrum(with Kenji Hiranabe),Shoei-sha,2013 (inJapanese).
- Business Model Innovation(with K. Tokuoka), Tokyo:Toyokeizaishimpo-sha, 2012 (in Japanese).
- The Grammar of Knowledge Creating Management for Prudent Capitalism(with N. Konno),
- The Practical Wisdom of Innovation (with A.Katsumi), Tokyo: NikkeiBP, 2010 (in Japanese)
- Managing Flow: The Dynamic Theory of the Knowledge-based Firm(with co-authors), Tokyo, Toyokeizaishimpo-sha, 2010 (in Japanese).
- Managing Flow: A Process Theory of the Knowledge-based Firm (withco-authors), Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.
- Virtuous-Based Management(with N. Konno), Tokyo: NTT Shuppan, 2007(in Japanse).
- The Art of Innovation (with A. Katsumi), Tokyo: Nihon Keizai Shimbun Shuppan-sha, 2007 (in Japanese).
- The Essence of Strategy (with co-authors), Tokyo: Nikkei BP, 2005(in Japanese).
- The Essence of Innovation (with A. Katsumi), Tokyo: Nikkei BP,2004 (in Japanese).
- Hitotsubashi on Knowledge Management(with co-authors), John Wiley(Asia), 2003.
- Methodology of Knowledge Creation (with N. Konno), Tokyo:Toyokeizaishimpo-sha, 2003 (in Japanese).
- Managing Industrial Knowledge (with D. Teece eds.), London: Sage,2001.
- Knowledge Emergence (with T. Nishiguchi eds.), New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.
- Enabling Knowledge Creation(with G. von Krogh and K. Ichijo), NewYork: Oxford University Press, 2000.
- Handbook of Organizational Learning & Knowledge(with M.Diekes, A.B. Anthal and J. Child eds.), Oxford: Oxford University Press,2000.
- Knowledge Creation: A Source of Value (with G. von Krogh and T.Nishiguchi eds.), London: Macmillan, 2000.
- The Light and the Shadow: How Breakthrough Innovation is Shaping European Business(with O. Kalthoff and P. Nueno), Roland Berger Foundation, 1997.
- Relentless: The Japanese Way of Marketing(with J.K. Johansson),New York: Harper Business, 1996.
- The Knowledge-Creating Company (with H. Takeuchi), New York:Oxford University Press, 1995.
- Intellectualizing Capability(with N. Konno), Tokyo: Nihon Keizai Shimbun-sha, 1995 (in Japanese).
- U.S. Marine Corp: Self-Innovation of Non-profit Organization,Tokyo: Chuuo Kouron Shinsha, 1995 (in Japanese).
- Management for Knowledge Creation, Tokyo: Nihon Keizai Shimbun-sha, 1990 (in Japanese).
- Strategic vs. Evolutionary Management: A U.S.-Japan Comparison of Strategy and Organization (with T. Kagono, K. Sakakibara and A. Okumura),Amsterdam: North-Holland, 1985.
- An Evolutionary Theory of the Firm, Tokyo: Nihon Keizai Shimbun-sha, 1985 (in Japanese).
- Essence of Failure: Organizational Study of the Japanese Armed Forcesduring the World War II(with R. Tobe, Y. Teramoto, S. Kamata, T. Suginoo and T. Murai), Tokyo:Diamond-sha, 1984 (in Japanese).
- A Comparison of U.S. vs. Japanese Management (with T. Kagono, K.Sakakibara and A. Okumura), Tokyo: Nihon Keizai Shimbun-sha, 1983 (inJapanese).
- Organization and Market: A Contingency Theory, Tokyo: ChikuraShobo, 1974 (in Japanese).
Articles /Book Chapters
- “Strategy as a Way of Life”, (with Hirotaka Takeuchi),MIT Sloan Management Review, Volume 63, Issue 1, Fall 2021.
- “Humanizing Strategy”, (with Hirotaka Takeuchi) ,Long Range Planning, Volume54, Issue 4, August 2021.
- “Maneuvering Knowledge: A study of U.S. Marine Corps”, (with Kota Uno),Kindai Management Review, Vol.8, 2020.
- “’Meso’-Foundations of Dynamic Capabilities: Team‐Level Synthesis and Distributed Leadership as the Source of Dynamic Creativity” (with A. Hiroseand Y. Takeda), Global Strategy Journal, 6(3), 168-182, 2016.
- “Practical Strategy as a Co-Creating Collective Narrative: From the Perspective of Organizational Knowledge-Creating Theory” (with A. Hirose).Kindai Business Review, 2015.
- “Wisdom, management and organization” (with R. Chia, R. Holt, and V.Peltokorpi). Management Learning, 45(4), 365-376, 2014.
- “Scenario planning: the basics” (with N. Konno, I. Nonaka, and J. Ogilvy).World Futures, 70(1), 28-43, 2014.
- “Dynamic fractal organizations for promoting knowledge-based transformation– A new paradigm for organizational theory”(with M. Kodama, A. Hirose, andF. Kohlbacher), European Management Journal, (32): 137–146,February 2014.
- “The Wise leader”(with H. Takeuchi),Harvard Business Review,May.-2011. 3-11, 2011.
- “Knowledge-based View of Radical Innovation: Toyota Prius Case” (with V.Peltokorpi) in J. T. Hage and M. Meenus (eds.),Innovation and Knowledge Growth, 2009.
- “Strategic Management as Distributed Practical Wisdom (Phonesis)” (with R.Toyama), Industrial and Corporate Change, 2007．
- “Visionary Knowledge Management: The Case of Eisai Transformation” (with V.Peltokorpi),International Journal of Learning and Intellectual Capital, 3 (2), 2006.
- “Organizational Knowledge Creation Theory: Evolutionary Paths and Future Advances” (with G. von Krogh and S. Voelpel),Organizational Studies, 27(18): 1179-1206, SAGE Publications, 2006.
- “Managing Organizational Knowledge: Theoretical and Methodological Foundations” in K.G. Smith and M.A. Hitt (eds.), Great Minds in Management, New York: Oxford University, 2005.
- “The Theory of the Knowledge-Creating Firm: Subjectivity, Objectivity and Synthesis” (with R. Toyama), Industrial and Corporate Change, 14(3): 419-436, 2005.
- “Strategic Knowledge Creation: The Case of Hamamatsu Photonics” (with V.Peltokorpi and H. Tomae), International Technology Journal, 2005.
- “The Knowledge-Creating Theory Revisited: Knowledge Creation as a Synthesizing Process” (with R. Toyama),Knowledge Management Research and Practice, 2-10, 2003.
- “A Firm as a Dialectical Being: Toward a Dynamic Theory of a Firm” (with R.Toyama), Industrial and Corporate Change, 11 (2002), 995-1009.
- “A Firm as a Knowledge Creating Entity: A New Perspective on the Theory ofthe Firm” (with R. Toyama and A. Nagata),Industrial and Corporate Change, 9 (1), 1-20, 2000.
- “Integrated IT Systems to Capitalize on Market Knowledge” in G. von Krogh,I. Nonaka and T. Nishiguchi (eds.),Knowledge Creation: A New Source of Value, London: Macmillan, 2000.
- “A Theory of Organizational Knowledge Creation: Understanding the Dynamic Process of Creating Knowledge” (with R. Toyama and P. Byosiere) in M.Dierkes, A. Antal, J. Child, and I. Nonaka (eds.),Handbook of Organizational Learning and Knowledge, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
- “An Integrated Information Technology System for Knowledge Creation” (withP. Reinmoeller and R. Toyama) in M. Dierkes, A. Antal, J. Child, and I.Nonaka (eds.), Handbook of Organizational Learning and Knowledge,Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
- “Emergence of “Ba”: A Conceptual Framework for Continuous andSelf-transcending Process of Knowledge Creation” (with N. Konno and R.Toyama) in I. Nonaka and T. Nishiguchi (eds.), Knowledge Emergence, New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
- “Knowledge Creation within Industrial Systems” (with F. Corno and P.Reinmoeller), Journal of Management and Governance, 3, 379-394,1999.
- “Organizational Capabilities in Product Development of Japanese Firms: A Conceptual Framework and Empirical Analyses” (with K. Kusunoki and A.Nagata), Organization Science, 9 (6) 699-718, 1998.
- “The Concept of “Ba”: Building a Foundation for Knowledge Creation” (withN. Konno),California Management Review, 40 (3) 1-15, 1998.
- “A Theory of the Firm’s Knowledge-Creation Dynamics” (with H. Takeuchi) inA.D. Chandler, P. Hagstrom and O. Solvell (eds.), The Dynamic Firm, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.
- “Three Tales of Knowledge-Creating Companies” (with K. Umemoto and D.Senoo) in G. von Krogh, J. Roos, and D. Klein (eds.),Knowing in Firms: Understanding, Managing, and Measuring Knowledge, London: Sage, 1977.
- “From Information Processing to Knowledge Creation: A Paradigm Shift in Business Management” (with K. Umemoto and D. Senoo),Technology in Society, 18 (2) 203-218, 1996.
- “Managing Innovation as an Organizational Knowledge Creation Process” in G.Pogorel (ed.),Technology Strategies in the Nineties: A Tricontinental Handbook, Milan: Franco Angeli, 1995.
- “A Dynamic Theory of Organizational Knowledge Creation”Organization Science, 5 (1) 14-37, 1994.
- “Organizational Knowledge Creation Theory: A First Comprehensive Test”(with P. Byosiere, C.C. Borucki and N. Konno),International Business Review, 3 (4) 337-351, 1994.
- “Beyond Reengineering” Organizational Science, 28 (1) 21-31, 1994(in Japanese).
- “Models of Knowledge Management in the West and Japan” (with G. Hedland) inP. Lorange, B. Chakravarthy, J. Roos and A. Van de Van (eds.),Implementing Strategic Processes: Change, Learning and Co-operation, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1993.
- “Intellectual Productivity of Japanese Firm”Organizational Science, 26(4) 56-63, 1993 (in Japanese).
- “A Theory of Interorganizational Knowledge Creation: Case Study of Innovation Process of Japanese Semiconductor Industry” (with S. Yonekura),Business Review, 40 (2) 18, 1992 (in Japanese).
- “Managing Knowledge Creation for the Global Firm: Case Study of Innovation Process of Nissan Corporation” Organizational Science, 25 (4)2-15, 1992 (in Japanese).
- “Managing the Firm as an Information Creation Process” in J.R. Meindl, R.L.Cardy and S. M. Puffer (eds.),Advances in Information Processing in Organizations, London: JAI Press, 1991.
- “The Knowledge-Creating Company” Harvard Business Review,Nov.-Dec. 96-104, 1991.
- “Managing Globalization as a Self-renewing Process: Experiences of Japanese MNCs” in C. Bartlett, Y. Doz and G. Hedlund (eds.),Managing the Global Firm, London: Routledge, 1990.
- “A Methodology of Organizational Knowledge Creation” (with N. Konno and N.Kawamura), Organizational Science, 24 (1) 2-20, 1990 (inJapanese).
- “Toward Middle Up-down Management: Accelerating Information Creation”Sloan Management Review, 29 (3) 9-18, 1988.
- “Self-renewal of the Japanese Firm and the Human Resource Strategy”Human Resource Management, Spring 1988.
- “Creating Organizational Order out of Chaos: Self-renewal in Japanese Firms” California Management Review, 30 (2) 57-73, 1988.
- “Redundant, Overlapping Organization: A Japanese Approach to Managing the Innovation Process” California Management Review, 22 (3) 27-38,1990.
- “The New New Product Development Game” (with H. Takeuchi),Harvard Business Review, Jan.-Feb. 137-146, 1986.
- “Managing the New Product Development Process: How Japanese Companies Learnand Unlearn” (with K. Imai and H. Takeuchi) in R.H. Hayes, K.B. Clark andC. Lorenz (eds.),The Uneasy Alliance: Managing the Productivility-Technology Dilemma, Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1985.
- “Japanese Management: What about the ‘Hard’ Skills?”(with J.Johansson),Academy of Management Review, 10 (2) 181-191, 1985.
- “Marketing Management, Its Environment, and Information Processing: A Problem of Organizational Design” (with F.M. Nicosia),Journal of Business Research, 7 (4) 277-300, 1979.