CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

1The advent of the 21st century is characterised by the increase of cultural interaction (Cornu, 2001; Jenkins, 2006; Jenkins et al., 2013) in relation to a widespread digital environment (Latour, 2005, 2015; Kline, Rosenberg, 2010), by an exponential acceleration of the 1980’s movement in terms of production (Nussbaum, 2013; Graeber, 2015), and more specifically the rapidly evolving Creative Economy (WEF/Schwab, 2016; Nesta/Mulgan, 2017). Moreover, we are witnessing an ongoing movement and transformation within the use and the sharing of knowledge and collaboration, through the growth of smartphones, tablets and phablets and their associated products. In France, for instance, mobile development is particularly visible through the latest report Le baromètre du numérique (CRÉDOC, 2018), which indicates that 94% of respondents own a smartphone.

2The current digital development, particularly through mobile technology (Ahonen, 2010), has given ways to new emerging players, intermediation platforms and new human behaviour (Anders, 2016; Teece, 2018), where knowledge is totally, or by degrees, dematerialised and ‘deterritorialised’ (Hamel, Ruben, 2000; Barrico, 2014). In addition, mobile technology can increasingly play the role of catalyst for creativity and sometimes even become active agents of innovative capacity and capability across peculiar spaces and time, either physically (Courpasson et al., 2016; Capdevila, 2015), digitally (Panahi et al., 2012; Buunk et al., 2018), and via connectivity and exchange of ‘intangible resources’ (France Stratégie, 2017; Nikolić, Natek, 2018) outside regulated and/or established procedures (Martin-Niemi, Greatbanks, 2010; Ollila, Yström, 2016).

3This paper examines mobile technologies in relation to the prevailing restructuration of work and innovative practices. It aims at reconsidering Nonaka and Konno’s concept of ba (1998) with regards to the latest technological progress and the new digital paradigm. The main purpose of this investigation is to define how mobile technology enables collaboration between workers, practices and systems. Said differently: how mobile technology, beyond just being a tool, endows a new perspective on the ba, and contemporary consideration of its framework? In order to progress in our questioning, we will principally refer to the Knowledge Management (KM) and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) literature, and to seven narratives originated from a qualitative modus operandi.

4To start, we review the KM and ICT literature concentrated on the concept of shared space, ba, and mobile technology. Then, seconded by a qualitative approach (Bonoma, 1985; Eisenhardt, 1989; Yin, 2018) and abductive reasoning (Pierce, 1903; Carcary, 2011), we highlight the findings of the seven developed narratives. Subsequently, we examine the identified benefits and limitations of mobile technology with regards to new forms of organisation of creative work, a fresh prospect upon the concept of ba. Before concluding, we take into account future research.

Literature Review

5To support our discussion, we first investigated some literature about the concept of ba (Nonaka, Konno, 1998; Nonaka et al., 2000; Nonaka et al., 2001). Ba can be translated from Japanese to English as ‘a context, which harbours meaning’. Thus, ba can be considered as a ‘shared space for emerging relationships’ (Nonaka, Konno, 1998) and information production and assimilation. Ba is part of the SECI model, developed by Nonaka and Takeuchi’s (1995), which consists of a cycle of four phases in terms of knowledge creation: Socialisation; Externalisation; Combination; and Internalisation. To be more precise, Nonaka and Konno (1998), and Nonaka et al. (2000), defined four sorts of ba (Fig. 1): originating (individual and face-to-face interactions AKA Socialisation) ba, dialoguing (collective and face-to-face interactions AKA Externalisation) ba, cyber/systemic (collective and virtual interactions AKA Combination) ba, and exercising (individual and virtual interactions AKA Internalisation) ba.

Fig. 1 – The latest updated version of the SECI model retrieved from Ikujiro Nonaka’s keynote (2010): Phronetic Leadership (Slide 10, https://bit.ly/2kpEsRI)

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Fig. 1 – The latest updated version of the SECI model retrieved from Ikujiro Nonaka’s keynote (2010): Phronetic Leadership (Slide 10, https://bit.ly/2kpEsRI)

6Thus, ba offers a space and a context for knowledge creation through the four defined various stages of SECI, and where the permutation and reorganisation from tacit to explicit knowledge, a “justified true belief” (Nonaka et al., 2000, p. 7), can take place. Noteworthy, in Nonaka’s SECI model, ICT is primarily contextualised within cyber ba (Combination, Fig. 1 – points 6, 7, 8, the place of self-reflective conversations) where original explicit knowledge is combined with some current one (Bartolacci et al., 2016).

7At the moment, there is a considerable KM literature which concentrates on direct organisational interactions and exchanges of knowledge between workers, collaborators, managers and partners, primarily through face-to-face (F2F) contacts and sharing without considering the technological and international trend in terms of collaborations and/or project management beyond the firm boundaries and sometimes, across multiple cultures. Consequently, we hypothesise that ba should be considered through new lenses, in terms of organisational teamwork enhancement, if individuals and/or teams want to successfully go beyond their own perspectives or boundaries (Tynjälä, 2013). With regards to the emergence of new digital technologies, such as a smartphone, we conjecture that, although still pertinent in some cases, the original definition of the originating ba (Fig. 1, Socialization –’Sharing and creating tacit knowledge through direct experience’) is not accurate anymore: “Originating ba is the primary ba from which the knowledge-creation process begins and represents the socialization phase. Physical, face-to-face experiences are the key to conversion and transfer of tacit knowledge.” (Nonaka, Konno, 1998, p. 46)

8Hitherto, scholars have established mobile technology as an enabling technology which can generate substantial social and innovative benefits through “ubiquitous and continuous connectivity” (Teece, 2018, p. 1384), or of being a mediating factor which facilitates spatial and social cohesion in teams and/or organisations (Chiu, Staples, 2013; Anders, 2016) by bridging boundaries in interdisciplinary collaborations (Majchrzak et al., 2012). Furthermore, Nikolić, Natek (2018) argue that the ‘digital enhancements’ support ideas that intermix more quickly and effortlessly via social media platforms, either through specific dedicated environment (Buunk et al., 2011; Bathelt, Turi, 2018), or via impromptu and/or unplanned initiatives (Martin-Niemi, Greatbanks, 2010). Thereupon, in spite of not having a direct F2F contact, tacit knowledge can be exchanged amongst collaborators via a digital space, through blogs (Martin-Niemi, Greatbanks, 2010), video-conference and/or “Virtual Community of Practice (VCoP)” (Bartolacci et al., 2016, p. 797), to name a few. This enriched online communication, as in F2F circumstances, enable the exchange and/or the confrontation of ideas, views, values, feelings, over and above any spatiotemporal differences.

9Other scholars such as Zhu (2006), Bratianu (2010) and Hong (2012), for instance, argued that the concept of ba is very limited towards its Japanese’s context. Hong even pointed out that discrepancies between local and global knowledge could imply “inter-cultural adjustment problems and misunderstanding” (Hong, 2012, p. 211). Nevertheless based on Jenkins (2006) and Jenkins and Deuze’s (2006) notion of the ‘convergent digital culture’, we claim that a new form of ba can be considered beyond the bounds of any culture. Moreover, what Jenkins et al. (2013) called the ‘spreadable media’ AKA ‘mobile social media’ supports our perspective about the fact that the original F2F’s attributes defined in the originating ba are no longer a requisite. To a certain extent, Jenkins et al.’s point of view radically differs from Hong’s argument against the Nonaka’s SECI model, especially in terms of the ability to distinguish between local and glocal knowledge (Hong, 2012). This is why we take this contention one step further by inferring that mobile social media could be considered as being the glue of a kind of meta-culture: the digital one.

10Eventually, Bathelt and Turi (2011) also determined that synchronous, or asynchronous, online communication potentially enables key opportunities for collaborators/partners through group emails or digital networking. This kind of interaction and its benefits is not necessarily achievable when F2F exchanges are highly difficult, improbable, if not impossible, within organisations working across various sites and time zones. De facto Anders (2016) also pointed out that new technologies allow more precise information, and consequently support process efficiency by empowering workers in knowledge-intensive (KI) organisations. As a result, we further claim that F2F exchange is no longer a requirement for tacit knowledge to be shared between individuals, teams or organisations. Divergently, large numbers of scholars, including Nonaka, emphasised that ‘being present’ (F2F), implies that various cues such as body language (gaze, facial expression, hand gestures, physical proximity or not) (Short et al., 1976; Goffman, 1969) or even a smell (Dupont et al., 2018; Panahi et al., 2012) are key elements during tacit knowledge exchanges. Conversely, Bathelth and Turi (2011) demonstrated that, when using affordable rich media (images, video, text, audio) and if a Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC) happens periodically, F2F interactions can occur similarly, or can take place under a new form. Thus, the Socialisation through mobile technology is possible and opportune; it can happen beyond geographical location and time constraints and further requires organisations to rethink their system management.

11Supplementary to the notion of F2F interactions, thanks to CMC, Fruchter (2001) demonstrated the pivotal role of ICT in some project developments across multiple collaborators, sites and time zone as being that of a catalyst, a broker, a moderator and keeping individuals and/or teams joining sides. As a result, within the companies operational leadership changes (Kotter, 1996), based on the original “Unfreeze – Change – Refreeze” (Lewin, 1947), we hypothesise that the current mobile technology enhances a permanent slush. It nurtures and facilitates the four forms of ba (Nonaka, Takeuchi, 1995) no matter when, and it enables continuous and open-ended interplays inside and outside companies’ borders, or internally across eclectic departments/services and collaborators (Anders, 2016; Ollila, Yström, 2016; Buunk et al., 2018). Hereinafter, mobile technology enables supplementary or complementary forms of innovative practices within a digital environment.

12In addition, referring to Ahonen’s (2011) definition of the nine particular characteristics of a smartphone, namely:

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1. First Personal Mass Media; 2. Always Connected; 3. Always Carried; 4. Built-in Payment Channel; 5. Available at Creative Impulse; 6. Has Most Accurate Audience Info; 7. Captures Social Context of Consumption; 8. Enables Augmented Reality; 9. Offers Digital Interface (to the real world)’.

14We agree with the Bartolacci et al. (2016) standpoint that mobile devices can provide users with intimate and authentic experiences in the same manner of a F2F situation via apps such as Messenger, MeWe, Monkey, Slack or Discord, which offer rich-media features, as defined previously. Also, based on Ferraris’ (2016) definition of mobile devices being ‘ARMI’ (Apparecchi di Registrazione e Mobilitazione dell’Intenzionalità, – Appliances for Recording and Mobilizing Intentionality, translated by the author) and their capability of recording every interaction all the time, we foresee some decisive benefits for workers, practices and systems in infinite archiving. Mobile technology can facilitate any search at any given moment, and even empower people to comment in real-time or a posteriori (Panahi et al., 2012); while F2F memories of discussions or actions can fall short, deteriorate, or have just never been disclosed to anyone (Taglino et al., 2012). Accordingly, Wang (2010) established that there is a high level of reflectivity and authenticity, in general, in video sharing on YouTube, for instance. The infinite archiving possibilities and consequently the ability to retrieve veracious knowledge at any time, even with added value (comments, blog posts), thanks to CMC encounters, works against the main findings from the KM literature which largely praise F2F situation (Siebdrat et al., 2009; Saenz et al., 2012). Indeed Bathelt and Turi (2011) argue against this assumption, as explained earlier, and Panahi et al. (2012) denounced that there is a considerable misrepresentation about a general competence and/or expertise in systematically, or naturally, understanding linguistic or body cues, or unspoken signs, for example. In other words, not everyone is an expert in psychology, or a skilfully trained ethnologist or ethnographer. On that account and with regard to the originating ba, we identify that mobile technology can add congruity and/or advantages in organisations by enabling knowledge sharing, knowledge transfer and knowledge management (Paulin, Suneson, 2012) beyond, or not, traditional F2F encounters.

15Yet, within an online environment Socialisation can be challenging, such as information overload, anonymity and/or unidentified source of reference. However, some scholars, determined that if trust, even a “swift trust” (Askay, Spivack, 2010; Panahi et al., 2011), can be attained then originating ba can occur in spite of a lack of traditional F2F situation. Furthermore, when dealing with Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SME), Petrakis and Kostis (2015) demonstrated that interpersonal trust and knowledge are closely intertwined. Consequently that knowledge positively affects the number of SME, which in return positively affects interpersonal trust: a kind of virtuous circle for SME, and their surroundings. By the same token, Botha et al. (2009) recognised mobile pervasiveness as one of the key elements in supporting and mediating collaborative and ‘intercultural competencies and communication skills’. In other words, mobile technology empowers people with new ways to deal with (co)creation, knowledge creation and sharing beyond physical, social and cultural borders (Gibbons et al., 1994; Nonaka et al., 2000; Huizingh, 2011). Regardless of Hamel and Zanini (2014) warnings about the difference between ‘information’ and ‘engagement’, Duperrin (2015) advocates about a “collaborative nomadism” while referring to mobile technology. Scilicet, the flow of information and knowledge creation inside and outside the workplace can be enabled thanks to pervasive mobile communication via tools such as WhatsApp or WeChat (Instant Messaging, IM), and strengthens collective intelligence (Levy, 1999; Majchrzak et al., 2012; Buunk et al., 2018; Morel et al., 2018). Similarly, Leornadi (2014) defined that new technology fosters a different type of productivity which is associated with the unique possibilities of a digital working environment, ergo, it generates new convergences and innovative initiatives (Teece, 2018). The corollary is that organisation work is frequently changing and rapidly adapting (Anders 2016; Bhalla, Dyrchs, Strack, 2017) to match the evolving nature of international and national projects or markets (Fruchter, Medlock, 2015). Somewhat, and because practices and systems can expand beyond boundaries, we believe that mobile technology, especially thanks to its permanent and constant archiving characteristics (Ferraris, 2016), develops what Cohendet and Simon (2008) [2] named the creative slack, which could be summarised by a myriad of possible unused or underused ideas, suggestions or concepts within organisations.

16Thus, although the stricto sensu definition of the ba (Nonaka, Takeuchi, 1995) implies physical F2F interactions, we argue that the new digital environment and mobile devices sheds new light on ba benefits, thereupon teamwork collaborations and connections across multiple locations and moments.

17The next part focuses on some examples in relation to the newly defined ba in relation to mobile technology and a new form of organisation for KI firms. The following section is composed of seven empirical narratives, their overall results and their qualitative interpretation, their synthesis, and some directions for complementary, or supplementary, research.

Examination – Seven Narratives Syllabus

18The research originally started in Aotearoa/New Zealand in 2017, and farther expanded to France in 2018. The data that we collected is formed from two groups of participants, who cover a wide range of characteristics such as different genders, various seniority and field of expertise. Although we have samples for variance and understand that a quantitative approach will be more representative, we advance that our work reveals some possibilities of bigger manifestations. The Aotearoa/New Zealand group of four interviewees (participants A, M, T, and V; please see below comments about the letters) comprises of one female and 3 males, with the average age of 44.5 years ranging between 28 and 61 years old. The France group of three interviewees (participants C, L, and N) comprises of 2 females and 1 male, with average age of 35 years ranging between 28 and 42 years old. Their represented work categories are Design, Telecommunication, Hospitality, and Education in a broad sense. Within all the participants’ associated workplaces three of them fit the SME definition of the European Commission (less than 250 employees), and the other four are organisations with more than 2,500, and less than 10,000, fixed-term staff members. Of note, all the Aotearoa/New Zealand respondents live and mainly work in Auckland, which is the main economic city, while in France, two of the respondents live in Nice, and one in Montpellier. In parallel, all the subjects have been, or are currently involved with international business, and they are all strongly implicated with their respective creative unit, or division. In terms of mobile technology, all of them use one mobile device at least, and some of them even up to four including a smartwatch. In terms of contribution into their respective workplace, they all have a decisive role and regularly take part in collaborative and organisational and critical decisions, whether it is about a local matter or a global business subject.

19Because we started the first set of F2F exchanges in Aotearoa/New Zealand, we opted for the use of a Talanoa method. Hence, all narratives are composed of seven face-to-face conversations, following a Talanoa approach (Fig. 2). Talanoa is “a personal encounter where people story their issues, their realities and aspirations” (Vaioleti, 1999-2002), and seems the most appropriate Pacific’s framework in Aotearoa/New Zealand, as well as in the South of France (Latin culture). As described by Vaioleti (2006): “Talanoa removes the distance between researcher and participant, and provides research participants with a human face they can relate to.” (p. 25) This is why participants were selected within the whānau (extended family) of the researcher in order to foster mo’oni (pure, real, authentic) information. This is of particular importance since this research is looking at revealing weak signals (Schoemaker, Day, 2009) which cannot be ascertained by quantitative, nor statistical or comparative data at the moment. Furthermore, Talanoa allows people “to engage in social conversation which may lead to critical discussions or knowledge creation that allows rich contextual and inter-related information to surface as co-constructed stories.” (Vaioleti, 2006) As follows, the procedure consisted of: (i.) audio-recording our loose conversation thanks to our smartphone (Fig. 2 – Toli); (ii.) compiling field noted and the recorded material at a later date (Fig. 2 – Toli); (iii.) transcribing and synthesising the recounting subsequently (Fig. 2 – Tui); (iv.) following the ako framework which implies reciprocity from both parties, in consequence: perusing each participant’s reaction afterwards (Fig. 2 – Tui).

Fig. 2 – Visualisation of the overall research design; adapted from Antonczak (2019)

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Fig. 2 – Visualisation of the overall research design; adapted from Antonczak (2019)

20In order to preserve the privacy and indistinctness of the participants, we use a letter to represent their voice in any citation. Also, in Figure 2, the letter ‘P’ represents the sum of all the participants, and ‘t’p a generic indication of the duration of a conversation. Also, in relation to this publication, we would like to note that two conversations happened in a café rather than at the participants’ workplace and that another one occurred online via Whereby (a video meeting platform) – we will come back to this peculiar point later. Finally, coupled with an alternating view between the “conflicting literature” and the “similar literature” (de Weerd-Nederhof, 2001) and our findings, we were able to ascertain some patterns among the interviewees’ sharing which are highlighted in the Discussion section (Fig. 2 – Tui).

Research Framework

21This study is using Eisenhardt’s approach (1989) to dealing with the seven narratives and their unveilings, which can be considered as a fair middle ground, between four and ten, without compromising the sturdiness of the results. We also refer to the “use of cross-case analysis and synthesis” (Taylor and Søndergaard, 2017, p. 75). Moreover, as partly visualised in Fig. 2, the investigation follows Bonoma’s (1985) five-phase scheme, such as (1) description (Tui), (2) classification (Tui), (3) measurement/estimation (Toli), (4) establishing of association (Toli), and (5) determining cause and effect (Toli).

22Furthermore, despite the sparse literature with regard to mobile technology in relation to knowledge and/or organisational management, our approach refers also to Yin’s (2018) statement that “case studies, like experiments, are generalisable to theoretical propositions”. (p. 21) Also, to consolidate some discoveries and to support our divergent thinking, alternating between the collected data and its synthesis (Carcary, 2011), we use abductive reasoning (partway Tui, Luva). This complementary approach invigorates the triangulation of the Literature Review, the seven Narratives and our knowledge gained through nearly ten years of work within the mobile field. As a result, our process takes into consideration the explicit and tacit knowledge in order to generate ‘something old and something hitherto unknown’ (Peirce, 1903) which contributes to the definition of a new form of collaborative organisation amongst networks, Communities of Practice (CoP), teams, and a few more.

23Finally, to support the analysis, an interpretive perspective is used, following some traditional approach in management. Organisational theorist Karl Weick (1995) talked about actors, in any situation, as processing information and reacting to it. Other theorists have moved one step further by arguing that actors ‘enact’ their environments. In our particular case, with a specific focus on the ‘space in-between’, the new forms of work organisation (coworking spaces, fab labs, living labs, makers spaces, and a few more), we refer to the use of cross-narratives analysis and synthesis (partway Tui, Luva).

Data Results and Background

24After the duologues, and the feedback stage, the study focused mainly on ascertaining how the accumulated data was pertinent, or not, in order to identify a pattern, or recurring phenomena (Gomes, de Oliveira Miranda Gomes, 2009). Also, according to Taylor and Søndergaard (2017):

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In this phase of cross-case analysis each individual case study is treated as a separate study. The advantage of the cross-case synthesis is that the analysis is likely to be easier and the findings more robust than relying on a single case analysis.” (p. 97)

26As a result, the interpretation of the seven narratives (Tui, Luva) works out some of the key mobile benefits defined by Ahonen (2011), as explained previously. According to Ahonen, there are nine unique benefits of mobile and, this study acknowledges six of them: Mobile is the First Personal Mass Media, Always Connected, Always Carried, Available at Creative Impulse, Enables Augmented Reality (in our case: geolocalisation), and Offers Digital Interface.

27Based on the discoveries of the four Aotearoa/New Zealand narratives (Antonczak, 2019), we outline that mobile technology: (i.) allows people to work while commuting, and during any convenient or relevant short timeframe; (ii.) keeps its users connected and aware of any new information or knowledge exchange; (iii.) makes some working tasks easier (ergonomic factor) and affordable; (iv.) geolocates data which adds a sense of authenticity and/or truthfulness. In other words, mobile technology also embodies the concept of the 3As (Anything Anywhere Anytime) known as ‘ATAWAD’ (Any Time, Any Where, Any Device). Then, it constantly and immediately procures contextualised information as well as activities’ recordings with regard to appropriate and significant time-space nexus. In consequence, we surmise that mobile technology benefits sheds new light on the SECI model (Nonaka et al., 2000) by regularly interplaying with tacit-explicit knowledge transfer cycles, and by enabling workers to perform in diversified surroundings, such as personal dwellings, cafés or public gardens, to name a few. This last notion substantiates Anders’ (2016) findings of the “benefits for flexible working in which employees may spend significant amounts of time working from outside the office, whether at home or from public spaces like coffee shops.” (p. 247) Similarly and although this research does not precisely encompass comparative analysis but rather unravels hidden/unconscious patterns, we remark that the French narratives revealed some congruent qualities about mobile technology. Below are some respective and resembling examples with the Aotearoa/New Zealand benefits, which were expressed in French and translated by the author:

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  1. The biggest advantage is that I can work between working hours: in transport, when I am waiting for the doctor, on the move.’ (Participant L)
  2. That’s right. It happens to me all the time. No, it’s just the same as the fact that when I’m on the move, on public transport it allows me to continue to monitor my emails and respond to them.’ (Participant C)
  3. When I’m in a meeting or something like that and I can listen with one ear, I pick up my phone and read my emails and see what I can process right away. (Participant N); It (smartphone) is always on and almost always in my hand.’ (Participant L)
  4. There are things I only do on smartphones, like managing social networks now.... in particular the Facebook Page application which is extremely effective.’ (Participant L)

29Hence, going back to our findings in the previous Literature Review section, mobile technology enables the co-creation and the sharing of knowledge across multiple spatio-temporal environments (Nonaka et al., 2000) in spite of a lack of physical encounters, or beyond visceral F2F interactions. Furthermore, mobile devices can also support the identification of the context-related knowledge within the ba through their flexible way of recording and sharing, in any surroundings. Also, they enable dynamic interactions between users and/or workers in a trustworthy and a “poly-synchronicity” way (Anders, 2016, p. 257) [3].

30Our methodological approach does not take into consideration comparative analysis at the moment. However, by going back to the hypothesis that mobile technology can enhance new forms of organisation of work and innovative practices, and by looking at these two similar findings, we argue that mobile devices enable collective innovation and collaboration between workers, practices and systems. Overall, the four distinguished attributes related to mobile technologies are autonomy, diversity, openness, interactivity; and the three core limitations are addiction, infobesity and hyperconnectivity (Table 1).

Table 1 – Synthesis of the empirical findings in conjunction with the Literature Review

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Table 1 – Synthesis of the empirical findings in conjunction with the Literature Review

31Through the various conversations, we also deciphered a repetitive message, which is encapsulated by this excerpt from Participant C:

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So... after the disadvantages of the mobile... well... let’s say its advantages are its disadvantages i.e. you are actually permanently connected and I find it quite difficult to disconnect.

33Coincidentally and encouragingly, our findings echo with Cavazotte et al. (2014) who, through a study in Brazil, demonstrated that mobile devices provide users with higher degrees of liberty and space for working while they might equally increase the level of stress, or performance anxiety, due to a higher workload and/or expectations from managers. And, although Obushenkova et al. (2018) later suggested that “the perceived expectations can lead to hyperconnectivity which can have a number of negative performance and health outcomes such as technostress, burnout, absenteeism and work-life conflict” (p. 193), we feel that all the participants of this study are able to manage this internal dilemma fairly well. It also seems that the French respondents were more concerned about the potential intrusiveness of pervasive devices, and invoked a certain mobile etiquette of which to be mindful.

34The following section will address these findings in relation to innovative practices and organisational work in minutiae.

Discussion

35Based on the previous sections, the following discussion presents three peculiarities which demonstrate how mobile technology enables collaboration between workers, practices and systems. In a nutshell, mobile technology can thrive the notion of ba, by (i.) broadening the notion of collaborative and innovative practices; (ii.) enabling transdisciplinarity interactions across individuals and/or teams; (iii.) defining a new spatiotemporal vicinity for organisations.

Broadening the Notion of Collaborative and Innovative Practices

36Within this research, the unanimous unveiled attributes are ‘autonomy’ and ‘interactivity’ which relate to the ability to work, to connect and to exchange across multiple sites (inside and/or outside the firm) and time zones. Therefore, knowledge production is thrived by mobile technology which provides a new form of ba, a contemporary digital context for knowledge creation (Nonaka, Konno, 1998; Nonaka et al., 2000) with a freshened definition of the Socialisation stage. Thanks to mobile devices, there is a new construct of immediate, frequent and/or spontaneous social interactions (Shapin, 1995; Nonaka et al., 2000; Chesbrough et al., 2014; Teece, 2018) which enhance the emergence of new, complementary or supplementary potentials for innovative initiatives and practices. Despite some possible inconveniences such technostress (hyperconnectivity) and/or work overload (infobesity), the empirical findings confirm the original hypothesis that claims that mobile devices enable new ways of collective and collaborative innovation, and, as a consequence, new forms of work organisation and production for KI companies.

37Besides, using a hermeneutic perspective, we advance that mobile technology productively contributes to foster modernised ways to structure work and innovative practices. Although Cavazotte et al. (2014) identified smartphones as potential burden for employees in Brazil (increased workload, issue between personal and professional life, higher expectation in terms of response rate for email/telephone communications), they also clearly demonstrated that mobile technology empowers people by giving them “greater personal freedom” (what we labelled ‘autonomy’) and “space for manoeuvre” and “enhanced possibilities of connectivity, rapid access to information” (p. 73), (what we defined as ‘interactivity’). Our investigation also revealed that our participants are conscious and/or well aware of some negative aspects of mobile technology, and that they have developed a personal etiquette in order to fully benefit from receiving information on the go, getting notifications, and being up-to-date with what’s going on with different networks and within a defined space and time. 

38In response to Bratianu (2010) and his argument against the SECI’s model where “socialisation and combination are only processes” (p. 115), we found that there are two key components to take into consideration at an organisational level when dealing with mobile technology. First, as quickly prompted in the introduction, the 21st century is distinguished ‘by the pervasiveness of digital technologies and the dynamics of information sharing typified by social media’ (WEF/Schwab, 2016). Hence, the new flow of exchanges facilitated by technology, per se mobile technology, do not require F2F interactions anymore as far as people/workers using a pertinent media, or ‘rich media’ (Bathelt, Turi, 2011; Pahani et al., 2012), to reach their respective audience/clients. Second, it is progressively becoming important to thoughtfully pay attention to the recipient, the group, or the network of the destination of the information (Bartolacci, 2016). Therefore, mobile technology implies a specific level of awareness in terms of psychology and culture, ergo it can sometimes challenge organisational routines.

39Although Capdevila (2018) claimed that “colocation and face-to-face interaction also strengthen community identity and facilitate peer-to-peer learning” (p. 5), our research reveals a weak signal amongst both groups (Aotearoa/New Zealand and France) which could be summarised by the fact that mobile devices allow their users to work in eclectic environment. Corollary, it fuels users creativity and inspiration, and streamlines formal/informal knowledge exchanges concurrently with authenticity. This particular point raises the question of the traditional workplace stereotypes and its organisation (Weick, 1995; Kotter, 1996; Drucker, 2007), especially in terms of top-down process (Zhu, 2006; Bratianu, 2010), and creative behaviour (Amabile, 1998; Caniëls, Rietzschel, 2015), which could be considered in further research.

Enabling Transdisciplinarity Interactions across Individuals and/or Teams

40Here, we will focus on the benefits of mobile technology which enables occurrences across multiple perspectives from eclectic experts and/or collaborators. Indeed, another attribute which arises from the findings of the narrative is ‘diversity’: diversity of location, diversity of environment, diversity of time and also the diversity of voices. Almost all participants acknowledged that it is easier and easier to share thoughts, spontaneous observations, or even questions with a dedicated, or not, group of people thanks to the affordance of mobile technology. Although using mobile devices may be restrictive in some cases in terms of readability (reflection, light conditions), or ergonomy (typing a long text, fingers size), it provides users with advantages such as “always in my pocket” (Participants T, V, M, L and N) and “always switched on” (Participants T, V, M, N, C and L). Thus, mobile technology enlightens users into a farther ba – a frame ‘made up of the borders of space and time’ (Nonaka, Konno, 1998, p. 41), where VCoP (Bartolacci et al., 2016) can interconnect in a ‘polysynchronicity’ way (Anders, 2016). This fluidity in exchanges and sharing enhances the capability and capacity for innovative practices, maintaining collaborative processes (Crosby, Bryson, 2010), and co-creating solutions (Huizingh, 2011). To a certain extent, referring to the notion of “middle ground” (Cohendet et al., 2010) and to the fact, according to Amin and Cohendet, (2004), that the “vector of space, in contrast, has remained comparatively undertheorized” (p. 86), we suggest to call the newly flexible collaborative environment across time and space, which does not systematically require F2F interactions, the ba mobile.

41Moreover, based on the unveiled weak signals through the empirical and theoretical results, we believe that the ba mobile echoes with Capdevila’s (2015) definition of coworking space, which includes: to be open, to encourage co-creation and collaboration via various groups of interest (CoI – Community of Interest) or expertise (CoP: Lave, Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998). Per contra, the main difference between a ba mobile and a coworking space resides in the fact that, respectively, one is digital-first with some physical possibilities while the other one is the opposite: physical first with some digital capabilities. Furthermore, when looking at the financial aspect of a ba mobile versus a coworking space, we foresee that in the first instance it is unspecific or vague while in the second one it is an important requirement or condition. In other words, based on the definition of the four phases of the innovation process such as “ideation”, “prototyping”, “commercialisation” and “marketing” (Capdevila, 2015), the ba mobile could be regarded as a peculiar coworking space focussing more on the first (ideation) and last phase (dissemination/marketing).

42To further address the transdisciplinarity interactions across individuals and/or teams, we would like to point out that our findings also show that mobile technology fits within the notion of uninterrupted flow defined by Barrico (2014), as well as Alter’s (2000) description that “a technical innovation does not only modify the activities directly using the tools in question, but also the social entity living from these activities.” (p. 15 translated by the author) Thus, the ba mobile not only supports and enables knowledge creation, conversion, transfer and sharing, as underlined by participants M, C and L and highlighted by Paulin and Suneson (2012), it also shapes new relationships over and above physical and presential constraints. However, in some cases, Obushenkova et al. (2017) identified that the use of smartphones in workplaces can lead to hindrances such as ‘addiction’ and ‘hyperconnectivity’. Our findings, despite a different methodological approach and focus, are in concordance with Obushenkova et al. who further argue that mobile devices can become a drawback in spite of their ability to facilitate the organisation of priorities (notifications, on the go information), time management (calendar, reminders), and processing information immediately (Anders, 2016; Antonczak, 2019). To sum up, mobile technology provides users with friendly adaptability, modularity and agility (Morel et al., 2018) while enabling flexibility, adaptability and propinquity, which fluidifies exchanges of knowledge as implied in ba (Nonaka et al., 2000, p. 15).

43Additionally, mobile technology enables a hic et nunc, passim which stimulates ‘communal conversations’ (Majchrzak et al., 2013) amongst CoIs and CoPs but also neophytes or amateurs. In this context and in spite of ‘infobesity’ (Participants T, M and C), the creation of knowledge across various fields and/or people coincides with Nonaka et al. (2000) notion of ‘redundancy’ and paradoxical dynamic well defined in the SECI model (p. 29). Therefore, we ascertain that mobile technology can provide organisations with a “middle ground, which ensures the continuous interactions between the formal organizations of the upper ground and the informal local communities of the underground” (Cohendet et al., 2018, p. 1057). All in all, in conformity with the existing literature, our empirical findings demonstrate that mobile devices are attractive apparatus for sharing spontaneous and/or authentic communication, for connecting eclectic professionals and/or amateurs over and above spatiotemporal limitations, especially within KI organisations and during the ideation and the dissemination phase of a project.

Defining a New Spatiotemporal Vicinity for Organisations

44Amabile (1997) identified that ‘autonomy’ fosters creativity and innovation and, one year later, Amabile (1998) ascertained that there are a lot of organisations which misused their physical space:

45

Indeed, a problem we have seen time and time again is managers pay­ing attention to creating the ‘right’ physical space at the expense of more high-impact actions, such as matching people to the right assignments and granting freedom around work processes.” (p. 54)

46Amabile (1998) further insisted on the importance of the pre-eminence and the value of communication amongst workers and what we can summarise by having a thoughtful disagreement or divergent perspectives when required.

47Thus, based on our findings, we argue that mobile technology enables meaningful and eclectic interactions inside or outside firms thanks to its affordance, pervasiveness and ‘rich media’ qualities. It also enhances the prospects of “getting the right information to the right person at the right time” beyond hierarchical and formal working relationship” (Chatti et al., 2007, p. 409), and it broadens the scope for behavioural changes in communication practice (Anders, 2016).

48In some cases, the ba mobile can provide workers or collaborators with a feeling of ‘openness’, which means that people are no longer restrained by the office surroundings nor by the humdrum working hours. Hence, a new kind of workaday can take place in some situations and beyond F2F connections. This newly defined spatiotemporal vicinity is also a prevailing observation on what Amin and Cohendet (2004) identified as “distributed competences, rule-free and flat organization, social capital, employee autonomy, information sharing, connectivity, results orientation, flexibility and adaptability, continuous learning, and visionary leadership have become the new watchwords of knowledge-based success.” (p. 70)

49Moreover, we claim that mobile technology enables CoIs and/or CoPs via social connectivity, thanks to its accessible and uncomplicated handling. It facilitates interplay across networks through authentic and timeless exchanges, and sometimes co-creation via project-based incentives (Bennis, Biederman, 1997; Cohen, Prusak, 2001; Anders, 2016).

50Paradoxically, and referring to the definition of ‘pharmacon’ (Derrida, 1968), mobile technology, like any technological object, can be as much a remedy as a poison. Without careful management and/or conscientiousness, the ba mobile could become a source of technostress, “cynical behaviour”, sometimes leading to burn-out (Cavazotte et al., 2014). So, the nimble approach praised by some respondents (Participant L, V and T) could be detrimental in some cases and/or for some people, who then will not be able to clearly perceive the benefits of mobile technology within their organisational routines (Anders, 2016). Obushenkova et al. (2017) also identified that mobile devices, if not judiciously used, could create some “work-life conflict” (p. 193) and become counterproductive consequently. Also, they established that not all activities, or types of organisations, are suited for this kind of modus operandi. However, because our investigation focuses on KI organisations only, the recent findings of Lansmann and Klein (2018) who prescribed to find “a balance between collaborative and uninterrupted work” (p. 11) are prominently in line with some of our narratives sensing (Participant T, V, A, L and N).

51Finally, without falling into any parochialism, we acknowledge that mobile technology enables communication innermost and/or outermost KI companies, and supports collaborations and transversely permutable environments and regions of the globe. It also enables a “technologically-induced organisational change” (Leonardi, Barley, 2008) when managed with thoughtfulness. As a deduction, the ba mobile challenges new form of work organisation and fosters the creation of another dimension, of a new kind of “enabler space” (Morel et al., 2018) thanks to “enabling technology” (Teece, 2018). Supported by our empirical findings, we further claim that mobile devices’ affordances sustain ongoing interactions and exchanges, as well as reshaping new modes of cooperation via a digital and online culture. This later paradigm shift can be characterised by four spatial tendencies: (i.) physicality (localisation of workplace and workers), (ii.) phygitality[4] (social networks), (iii.) digitality (Internet, online storage), and (iv.) invisibility (connection through networks such as Wi-Fi or 5G, for example). Yet, mobile technology offers new territories and dexterity for KI organisations by enhancing a social and experiential change in organisational work (Teece, 2018).

Future Developments

52The collected data represents a limited range of possibilities, and further interviews/analysis of the full data set are still in progress. Also, with regard to the methods, it might be interesting to explore in more detail pieces of information, via a quantitative approach, to find out more parameters in order to develop more path models (Huizingh, 2011), and to triangulate the new findings with further qualitative data, for instance. Thereupon, it might be pertinent to explore in further detail the potential of mobile technology in relation to our findings via a specific scientific protocol using mobile technology itself, such as the accelerometer coupled with the GPS function, in order to gather detailed information about workers location/time during a day, a week, a month, for instance. Another option could focus on language analysis and/or used tools (apps/mobile social media or services) during a specific project/collaboration that may identify a different set of data. 

53Furthermore, it might be interesting to review in detail the space of convergence, or divergence, between our findings, about the role of mobile technology in comparison to the intermediaries (Agogué et al., 2017), and the innomediaries (Chesbrough et al., 2014) in relation to informal/formal practices (Agogué et al., 2017, Table 3), or to social representation with regard to emerging technology (Dupont et al., 2018).

54Lastly, but not least, although mobile devices appear to be the perfect tool for transient and dynamic collaborations, involving a change of mindset, or particular sense of behaviour and organisation within a flexible working environment, supplementary research about individual/organisational creativity processes should be undertaken in the specific realm of open innovation, “including user innovation, co-creation, cooperative R&D, technology sourcing, and related topics” (Chesbrough et al., 2014, p. 283).

Conclusion

55This paper makes three contributions.

56The first one is about shedding new lights on the SECI model (Nonaka et al., 2000) by providing a new perspective on the Socialisation phase (originating ba). Indeed, after analysing both KM and ICT literature, and then triangulating the theoretical findings with the empirical data unravelled from the seven narratives, we demonstrated that mobile devices enable a new and digital form of ba, named the ba mobile. With respect to the original ba, the ba mobile allows collaborations in an authentic way in spite of the occasional absence of F2F contact. Hence, collaborative practices can happen amidst any surroundings or environment through and thanks to the affordance of mobile devices. Therefore, mobile technology, as stated by Anders (2016), enables “knowledge-sharing benefits of communication visibility by closing the gap between metaknowledge and situated practice” (p. 254).

57The second one consists in typecasting four mobile technology’s virtues, namely ‘autonomy’, ‘diversity’, ‘openness’ and ‘interactivity’, as well as three shortcomings such as ‘addiction’, ‘infobesity’ and ‘hyperconnectivity’. Although our research uses a different approach and focus, these results resonate with Cavazotte et al.’s findings of the use of smartphones in Brazil. It also highlights new understandings of social collaboration practices through examining weak signals and by demonstrating how mobile technology can, as suggested by Leonardi and Barley (2008) “provide people with the ability to do old things in new ways and to do things they could not do before.” (p. 161) Additionally, we claim that the ba mobile, based on an “enabling technology” (Teece, 2018), fosters a contemporary prospect of what Morel et al. (2018) identified as an “enabler space”. Creativity therefore no longer has a specific territory, nor time constraint; it happens in a “middle ground” (Cohendet et al., 2010), a spatio-temporal continuum situated in between local and global (glocal[5]), between national and international (borderless, ubiquity), and between F2F and online (phygital).

58The last one lies in considering future avenues for further inquiry possibilities. Based on Leonardi and Barley (2008) and their definition of “technological-induced organisational change” via the “relationship between agency, the material and the social” (p. 168), it might be pertinent to use some data gathered through mobile technology itself, and compare the new findings with the current ones. From another angle, it is tempting to further explore how mobile technology will impact on productivity within a limitless and never-stopping digital environment.

Notes

  • [1]
    I would like to thank Prof. Patrick Llerena and Prof. Thierry Burger-Helmchen (Unistra, BETA-CNRS, France), Dr Laurent Dupont (University of Lorraine, France), and Prof. Charles Walker and Dr Yvonne Chan (AUT, Creative Technologies, NZ) for their support. Also, a big thank you to the anonymous referees for their detailed and purposeful feedback, and to all the participants and contributors who informed this paper. Special thanks to Valérie Lobstein, Joan Dunn, and the diligent editorial team.
  • [2]
    The notion of creative slack purposefully refers to the notion of organizational slackproposed by Penrose (1959) who suggested that organizations always have some stock ofunused, or underused, resources (e.g., knowledge, relationships, reputation, managerialtalent, physical assets, etc.) that inevitably accumulate in the course of developing, producing, and marketing any given product or service.” (Cohendet, Simon, 2008, p. 7)
  • [3]
    Polysynchronicity characterizes a preference for flexible variability and dynamic scaling of communication synchronicity—the degree to which communication behaviour is shared and coordinated.” (Anders, 2016, p. 257)
  • [4]
    Phygital is the marketing concept, coined by the retail industry, of using technology to bridge the digital world with the physical world with the purpose of providing a unique ‘immediacy, immersion and interaction’ experiences for the user. The main component of this strategy is mobile technology. By extension, we define phygital as a fusion of physical and digital spaces, a new in-between.
  • [5]
    Glocal is a blend of global and local – originally, it comes from the Japanese word dochakuka, which means global localisation.
English

The advent of the 21st century is characterised by the increase of cultural interaction in relation to a widespread digital environment. Moreover, we are witnessing an ongoing movement and transformation within the use and the sharing of knowledge, and collaboration through the growth of mobile devices and their associated products. The current digital development, particularly through mobile technology, has given way to new emerging players, intermediation platforms and new human behaviour. In addition, mobile technology can increasingly play the role of catalyst for creativity. It will sometimes even become an active agent of innovative capacity and capability across peculiar spaces and time, either physically, digitally, and, via connectivity, an exchange of intangible resources outside regulated and/or established procedures. This paper examines how mobile technology enables a contemporary consideration of the Nonaka and Konno’s concept of ba within organisations by using a qualitative and hermeneutic approach.
JEL Codes: O3

  • Ba
  • Collaboration
  • Mobile Technology
  • Management
  • Organisation
  • Space
  • Time

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Laurent Antonczak [1]
University of Strasbourg
BETA-CNRS – Strasbourg (France)
Auckland University of Technology
Creative Technologies – Auckland (New Zealand)
laurent.antonczak@gmail.com
  • [1]
    I would like to thank Prof. Patrick Llerena and Prof. Thierry Burger-Helmchen (Unistra, BETA-CNRS, France), Dr Laurent Dupont (University of Lorraine, France), and Prof. Charles Walker and Dr Yvonne Chan (AUT, Creative Technologies, NZ) for their support. Also, a big thank you to the anonymous referees for their detailed and purposeful feedback, and to all the participants and contributors who informed this paper. Special thanks to Valérie Lobstein, Joan Dunn, and the diligent editorial team.
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