Prof. Nonaka’s “The Wise Leader” and its relationship with Agile

 This picture is from “Innovation Sprint 2010”, Jeff Sutherland and Ikujiro Nonanak, translation by me. At Innovation Sprint 2010, we invited Jeff Sutherland and Ikujiro Nonaka as the two keynote speakers. It is well-known that Jeff named his invention process “Scrum” because he was inspired by “New New Product Development Games” written by Takeuchi and Nonaka(1986). At that event, Jeff showed his long time respect to Nonaka, and Nonaka appreciated Jeff’s great work in the software development context which Nonaka didn’t think of at all at the time he had coined the word Scrum.

Jeff Sutherland also blogged about this event;

Last month, Prof. Nonaka and Takeuchi again wrote an article in Harvard Business Review, titled “Wise Leader”. See the video there.

Prof. Nonaka, the grandfather of Scrum, has recently been articulating a new type of leadership found in Japanese management, with help from the philosopher Aristotle’s word “Phronesis”. I’d like to share this with you here, because this is what I think an Agile leader is.

For a long time, Agile have avoided the word “leadership”, but here is the answer from Nonaka.

Effective knowledge creation needs distributed practical wisdom (which Aristotle called “phronesis”) in each members of the organization. Knowledge is created out of one’s existential belief or commitment to a vision of the future, the ability to interpret one’s environment and resources subjectively, and the interaction between subjectivity and objectivity. These abilities need to be distributed among organizational members. Such idealistic pragmatism means that in a specific and dynamic context knowledge can be created and refined to become wisdom.

Aristotle’s three types of knowledge are;

  • Episteme (Scientific Knowledge) Universal, context-free and objective knowledge(explicit knowledge)
  • Techne (Skills and Crafts Knowledge) Practical and context-specific technical know-how(tacit knowledge)
  • Phronesis (Prudence/Practical Wisdom) Experiential knowledge to make context-specific decisions based on one’s own value/ethics (high quality tacit knowledge)

Phronesis is a concept that synthesizes “knowing why” as in scientific theory, with “knowing how” as in practical skill, and “knowing what” as a goal to be realized. Unlike episteme, it emphasizes practices in particular contexts.

Six Abilities that Constitute Phronesis are;

  •  Ability to make a judgment on goodness.
  • Ability to share contexts with others to create *ba*(shared sense).
  • Ability to grasp the essence of particular situations/things.
  • Ability to reconstruct the particulars into universals using language/concepts/narratives.
  • Ability to use any necessary means well to realize concepts for common goodness.
  • Ability to foster phronesis in others to build resilient organization

Here is a reference to slides he talked about it. Strategic Management as Distributed Phronesis.

Source: "Strategy as Distributed Phronesis”, Nonaka Ikujiro, 2006

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