Collaborative technologies for Knowledge Socialization: the case of elBulli

July 18, 2013, 13:30 | Long Paper, Burnett 115


Today, organizations face the crucial challenge of creating and managing knowledge in order to succeed. As part of the Knowledge Management process, Knowledge Socialization is a critical step during which the community experiences a decisive interchange of ideas. In this work, we present a new model for Knowledge Management based on the classic Nonaka and Takeuchi's one but adapted to the Web 2.0 by using wiki technologies to support Knowledge Socialization, and we propose to apply this model to the case of elBulli.

elBulli, voted by industry authority Restaurant magazine as the best restaurant in the world in 2002 and from 2006 to 2009 (William, 2012), has now become a foundation for creativity and innovation in high cuisine. It incorporates disciplines such as technology, science, philosophy, and the arts in its research. Aware of the value of knowledge, the organization publishes its results in international conferences, books or journal articles, in a similar way to the academic process of peer review. Therefore, elBulli is an appropriate case to apply a Knowledge Management model that makes maximum use of its knowledge.

Knowledge as an asset

In recent years, the technological development and globalization have produced significant structural changes in society and the economy. New emergent industries embody a new economic reality: knowledge has become the main economic resource (Drucker, 1969). Indeed, nowadays, knowledge is the asset that generates more value in an organization, and the competitiveness of companies depends heavily on how they maintain and access their knowledge (Fensel, 2004; Davies, 2003).

Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi propose a model whereby the creation of knowledge is a continuous and iterative process that transforms tacit knowledge (individual and subjective) into explicit (objective and shared) and vice versa (Nonaka, 1995). This process goes through four phases:

  • Socialization is the action of sharing tacit knowledge with other individuals by means of observation, imitation and practice during collective work (for example, celebrating a meeting).
  • Externalization is the action of making tacit knowledge explicit (for example, writing an article) in order to share it.
  • Combination is the process of synthesizing more complex explicit knowledge from various sources of simpler explicit knowledge (for example, building a prototype).
  • Internalization is the assimilation of explicit knowledge. It occurs when we understand explicit knowledge through experience (for example, nobody can tell you how to ride a bike, you need to practise to learn).

Knowledge at elBulli

elBulli is especially fascinating because of the processes from elBulli Restaurant to elBulli Foundation and the way the organization has redefined itself in the last few years: evolution and reinvention, diffusion of their practices, concepts and techniques across time and social space, etc. (William, 2012)

Illustration 1:
Nonaka & Takeuchi’s cycle (Aranda-Corral et al., 2010)

By applying Nonaka and Takeuchi’s principles, we can demonstrate that this organization creates valuable knowledge:

  • Socialization. Creativity and innovation implies constant learning so that its employees attend specialized courses, gastronomic fairs, research stays, conferences, etc.
  • Externalization. Unlike the traditional model, in which a chef would closely guard his secrets, elBulli documents exhaustively all its achievements and developments since 1990 (catalogues, audiovisual resources, recipes…) and it publishes its research in conferences, books or journal articles.
  • Combination. The process of creation can be seen as an engineering process (Soler, 2007):
    • 1. Initial idea
    • 2. Use of one of the creative methods known
    • 3. Tests
    • 4. Analysis and reflection (wisdom and previous knowledge)
    • 5. Finish and last tests
    • 6. Prototype
    • 7. Customer’s feedback
    • 8. Last changes
    • 9. Finished and catalogued dish
    The combination of existing creative methods, techniques, previous knowledge and known recipes results in new creative methods and new dishes.
  • Internalization. Cooking is a suitable example of knowledge internalization: only by practising these new methods and recipes, chefs can learn how to prepare new dishes.

Adrià suggests externalizing all their knowledge onto the Bullipedia, an online database that “will contain every piece of gastronomic knowledge ever gathered”. Adrià and some of the best chefs all over the world are putting in common their wisdom to agree on the content of the Bullipedia. Their aim is to create an encyclopedia with 15,000 articles “where users will leave suggestions for dishes, concepts and combinations of flavours” that will affect, in Adrià’s opinion, other chefs’ creativity.

This agreement can only be achieved through a sound process of socialization. According to Nonaka & Takeuchi’s cycle, socialization entails a transformation from individual tacit knowledge into collective tacit knowledge. This conversion is extremely hard to carry out due to tacit knowledge being highly personal, deeply attached to individual actions in a specific context (a profession, a technology…) and composed of individual’s technical skills that can only be acquired by learning and improved by experience . Hence, it is difficult to formalize and share.


Our contribution is a new model for Knowledge Management in which we replace the disadvantaged classic Knowledge Socialization phase, based on few experts and unidirectional master-apprentice relationships, with a new process characterized by:

  • Multidirectional socialization given in social networks, where users adopt multiple roles (they are now content prosumers, that is, the production and consumption of knowledge is entrusted to the users (Aranda-Corral et al., 2010)).
  • Interchange of ideas through wiki technologies.
This model fits in better with the current technological and social reality.

Thus, we showcase the advantages that our model would provide in a case such as that of Adrià and his colleagues when building the Bullipedia from scratch, so that they really benefit from the interaction with a large community of prosumers and use wiki technologies to exchange ideas and develop a more nuanced metalanguage that really supports this initative and make it sustainable in the long term. This approach could also be exploited in other cases of collaboration such as collective software construction, project documentation or interactive learning.

Illustration 2:
Social network based on prosumers

Theoretical framework: the power of crowds, social networks and collaborative technologies Socializing knowledge is critical to both its evolution and its usefulness (Inmon, 2008). Knowledge Management cycle might provide better outcomes, in terms of quality and value of knowledge, by improving the socialization process. In the case of elBulli, Adrià and his colleagues are agreeing on the content of the upcoming Bullipedia. However, they discovered that the hardest part was to find a common language, that is, the worlds of science and gastronomy may share similar processes and methodologies, but they rarely intersect.

It is at this point in which we believe things can be enhanced: turning to a big community instead of a few experts. We borrow some James Surowiecki’s concepts on crowdsourcing (Adams, 2011; Schall, 2012; Sautter, 2011; Doan, 2011; Brabham, 2008). Surowiecki asserts that a large group of people is smarter than an elite few, no matter how brilliant (Surowiecki, 2004). Four conditions must be met for a crowd’s collective intelligence to produce more accurate outcomes than a small group of experts (Tapscott, 2006):

  • 1) Diversity of opinion
  • 2) Independence of members from one another
  • 3) Decentralization
  • 4) A good method for aggregating opinions

We can demonstrate Surowiecki’s ideas are applicable to our model. First of all, the case of elBulli is both especially interdisciplinary and heterogeneous enough. Adrià uses “cuisine as a discourse in order to create a dialogue with other disciplines”. The foundation is a mash-up of science, the arts, philosophy and technology as a creativity-generating universe that produces knowledge (William, 2012). It is this crossroad among various disciplines what creates such heterogeneity and diversity of knowledge and opinions about the same topic (1).

Secondly, advance in technology have provided novel ways to socialize knowledge. Social networks have created a new reality of social interaction (Easly, 2010; Mika, 2007) that has enabled more effective ways of agreement (Mazzega, 2011). Users organized around a wiki constitute a non-hierarchical and decentralized social network whose members are independent but collaborate (Leuf, 2001) (2 y 3). According to Complex Systems theory, members in social networks selforganize and agreement emerges from the bottom-up as a result of their interactions (Wood, 2010; Jones-Rooy, 2010).

Finally, a wiki fosters the idea of prosumers collaborating on the Web as it blurs the line between the reader and the writer (Caverly, 2008). Many online communities have adopted this approach to create collective knowledge (John, 2004; Krötzsch, 2006; Ebersbach, 2006). Wikipedia, the great online encyclopedia, supports this proposition. Therefore, Wikis are a good method for aggregating knowldge and opinions (4).


We have shown that elBulli creates valuable knowledge by applying Nonaka and Takeuchi’s principles. The organization is now creating the Bullipedia, an online database that “will contain every piece of gastronomic knowledge ever gathered”. Nonaka & Takeuchi's cycle can be adapted to manage that knowledge in social networks based on prosumers. In our model, we propose:

  • Turning to the crowd instead of letting the Bullipedia be constructed by a small group of experts.
  • Use of wiki technologies, as they have demonstrated their effectiveness for collaboration.


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