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Knowledge spiral

Learning and innovating is a process of knowledge creation. In this regard Nonaka et al. apply the familiar distinction between explicit and implicit or ‘tacit’ knowledge: where explicit knowledge is communicable through language, tacit knowledge is personal, dependent on context, and therefore harder to communicate. Nonaka et al. furthermore claim that knowledge creation occurs through the interaction between these two types of knowledge. They elaborate this viewpoint in a dynamic model that shows a constant spiral of knowledge flows between individuals and groups in an organizational context. This process is moreover enhanced through the continuous connection of individuals with their environment. The diagram below depicts this knowledge spiral.

Briefly put, the first type of knowledge conversion (top-left square) centers on individual learning: the often informal exchange of direct experience (socialization). Externalization means that tacit knowledge does not remain with individuals exclusively, but is converted into explicit knowledge, relying importantly on effective language use, dialogue and images. In the third step, the explicit knowledge – as the new standard – is systematically ‘rolled out’ throughout the organization, for instance through rules, procedures and competencies. Internalization, finally, means that individuals reflect on the extent to which their (former) preconceptions and ‘mental models’ fit with the new experiences, and that they start to incorporate the new insights into their tacit knowledge.

The relevance of this theory for simulations and games particularly involves the internalization phase. After all, simulations and games can open a window on knowledge, skills and/or behavior that are required in a new desired reality, for example a customer-oriented organization. This experience inevitably challenges the participant to engage in critical reflection, which may mark the start of an internalization process.


Another interesting perspective derives from entertainment gaming. McGonigal distinguishes a number of ‘fixes’ that help repair what she describes as ‘broken reality’.