Tacit Knowledge

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What is Tacit Knowledge? Meaning.

Tacit Knowledge is one of two categories of knowledge. The other is: Explicit Knowledge. While explicit knowledge is relatively easy to capture and code in organizations, this is much more difficult with tacit knowledge. As a result, most organizations have concentrated their knowledge management efforts on developing explicit knowledge.

However, tacit knowledge is generally the more important category, because it is often a source of the Core Competence and the Competitive Advantage of any corporation. As a competitive advantage, it is sustainable, because it is so hard to copy or imitate. Furthermore it is crucial for making the right business decisions and also for innovation. From a financial perspective it is an important part of the Intangible Assets of any firm.

The term "tacit knowing" was coined by scientist and philosopher Michael Polanyi. It is important to note that he actually described a process (hence: tacit knowing), and not a form of knowledge.

One way of viewing tacit knowledge is to see it as the glue that is binding the explicit knowledge together. Another way to describe it, is as “know-how”, as opposed to: “know-what” (facts), or “know-why” (science). Another way is to make distinction between embodied knowledge and theoretical knowledge. On this account, knowing-how or embodied knowledge is characteristic of the expert, who acts, makes judgments, and so forth without explicitly reflecting on the principles or rules involved. The expert works without having a theory of his or her work; he or she just performs skillfully without deliberation or focused attention. Knowing-what and knowing-why, by contrast, involve consciously accessible knowledge that can be articulated and is characteristic of the person learning a skill through explicit instruction, recitation of rules, attention to his or her movements, etc. While such declarative knowledge may be needed for the acquisition of skills, the argument goes, it no longer becomes necessary for the practice of those skills once the novice becomes an expert in exercising them, and indeed it does seem to be the case that, as Polanyi argued, when we acquire a skill, we acquire a corresponding understanding that defies articulation.

Tacit Knowledge is difficult to codify, document, communicate, describe, replicate or imitate, because it is the result of human experience and human senses. The skills of a master or of a top manager cannot be learned from a textbook or even in a class, but only through years of experience and apprenticeship.

Nonaka and Takeuchi describe tacit knowledge as a non-linguistic, non-numerical form of knowledge that is highly personal and context specific and deeply rooted in individual experiences, ideas, values and emotions. Furthermore, they distinguish between technical tacit knowledge, meaning skills or concrete "know-how", and cognitive tacit knowledge, which refers to ingrained schema, beliefs, and mental models that are taken for granted.

P. Baumard (Tacit Knowledge in Organizations, 1999) has argued that knowledge in general, and tacit knowledge in particular, can be both an attribute of individuals and of groups, collectives or organizations. Although organizational tacit knowledge may be somewhat different from individual tacit knowledge. See also: Bridging Epistemologies

Hildreth and Kimble (The duality of knowledge, 2002) argue that the common approach to try to convert tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge, and then handle it using the 'traditional' approach is flawed. Some knowledge simply cannot be captured. A method is needed which recognizes that knowledge resides in people: not in machines or documents. They argue that knowledge management is essentially about people and the earlier technology driven approaches, which failed to consider this, were bound to be limited in their success. They suggest as practical way forward to use Communities of Practice, which provide an environment for people to develop knowledge through interaction with others in an environment where knowledge is created nurtured and sustained. Other systems via which organizations try to develop or capture tacit knowledge include special portals, search engines, resident experts, and documentation systems for experts.

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