Tacit knowledge

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Tacit knowledge (as opposed to formal, codified or explicit knowledge) is the kind of knowledge that is difficult to transfer to another person by means of writing it down or verbalizing it. For example, stating to someone that London is in the United Kingdom is a piece of explicit knowledge that can be written down, transmitted, and understood by a recipient. However, the ability to speak a language, use algebra,[1] or design and use complex equipment requires all sorts of knowledge that is not always known explicitly, even by expert practitioners, and which is difficult or impossible to explicitly transfer to other users.

While tacit knowledge appears to be simple, it has far reaching consequences and is not widely understood.

Definition[edit]

The term “tacit knowing” or “tacit knowledge” was first introduced into philosophy by Michael Polanyi in 1958 in his magnum opus Personal Knowledge. He famously introduces the idea in his later work The Tacit Dimension with the assertion that “we can know more than we can tell.”.[2] According to him, not only is the knowledge that cannot be adequately articulated by verbal means, but also all knowledge is rooted in tacit knowledge in the strong sense of that term.

With tacit knowledge, people are not often aware of the knowledge they possess or how it can be valuable to others. Effective transfer of tacit knowledge generally requires extensive personal contact, regular interaction [3] and trust. This kind of knowledge can only be revealed through practice in a particular context and transmitted through social networks.[4] To some extent it is "captured" when the knowledge holder joins a network or a community of practice.[3]

Some examples of daily activities and tacit knowledge are: riding a bike, playing the piano, driving a car, and hitting a nail with a hammer.[5]

The formal knowledge of how to ride a bicycle is that in order to balance, if the bike falls to the left, one steers to the left. To turn right the rider first steers to the left, and then when the bike falls right, the rider steers to the right.[6] You may know explicitly how turning of the handle bars or steering wheel change the direction of a bike or car, but you cannot simultaneously focus on this and at the same time orientate yourself in traffic.

Similarly, you may know explicitly how to hold the handle of a hammer, but you cannot simultaneously focus on the handle and hit the nail correctly with the hammer. The master pianist can perform brilliantly, but if he begins to concentrate on the movements of his fingers instead of the music, he will not be able to play as a master. Knowing the explicit knowledge, however, is no help in riding a bicycle, doesn’t help in performing well in the tasks since few people are aware of it when performing and few riders are in fact aware of this.

Tacit knowledge is not easily shared. Although it is that which is used by all people, it is not necessarily able to be easily articulated. It consists of beliefs, ideals, values, schemata and mental models which are deeply ingrained in us and which we often take for granted. While difficult to articulate, this cognitive dimension of tacit knowledge shapes the way we perceive the world.

In the field of knowledge management, the concept of tacit knowledge refers to a knowledge possessed only by an individual and difficult to communicate to others via words and symbols. Therefore, an individual can acquire tacit knowledge without language. Apprentices, for example, work with their mentors and learn craftsmanship not through language but by observation, imitation, and practice.

The key to acquiring tacit knowledge is experience. Without some form of shared experience, it is extremely difficult for people to share each other's thinking processes[7]

Tacit knowledge has been described as “know-how” – as opposed to “know-what” (facts), “know-why” (science), or “know-who” (networking)[citation needed]. It involves learning and skill but not in a way that can be written down. 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 [4]

Tacit knowledge vs. Explicit knowledge:[8] Although it is possible to distinguish conceptually between explicit and tacit knowledge, they are not separate and discrete in practice. The interaction between these two modes of knowing is vital for the creation of new knowledge.[9]

Differences with explicit knowledge[edit]

Tacit knowledge can be distinguished from explicit knowledge [10]in three major areas:

The process of transforming tacit knowledge into explicit or specifiable knowledge is known as codification, articulation, or specification. The tacit aspects of knowledge are those that cannot be codified, but can only be transmitted via training or gained through personal experience. There is a view against the distinction, where it is believed that all propositional knowledge (knowledge that) is ultimately reducible to practical knowledge (knowledge how).[11]

Transmission models for tacit knowledge[edit]

A chief practice of technological development is the codification of tacit knowledge into explicit programmed operations so that processes previously requiring skilled employees can be automated for greater efficiency and consistency at lower cost. Such codification involves mechanically replicating the performance of persons who possess relevant tacit knowledge; in doing so, however, the ability of the skilled practitioner to innovate and adapt to unforeseen circumstances based on the tacit "feel" of the situation is often lost. The technical remedy is to attempt to substitute brute-force methods capitalizing on the computing power of a system, such as those that enable a supercomputer programmed to "play" chess against a grandmaster whose tacit knowledge of the game is broad and deep.

The conflicts demonstrated in the previous two paragraphs are reflected in Ikujiro Nonaka's model of organizational knowledge creation, in which he proposes that tacit knowledge can be converted to explicit knowledge. In that model tacit knowledge is presented variously as uncodifiable ("tacit aspects of knowledge are those that cannot be codified") and codifiable ("transforming tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge is known as codification"). This ambiguity is common in the knowledge management literature.

Nonaka's view may be contrasted with Polanyi's original view of "tacit knowing." Polanyi believed that while declarative knowledge may be needed for acquiring skills, it is unnecessary for using those skills once the novice becomes an expert. 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 [4]

Examples[edit]

Knowledge management[edit]

Knowledge management can be considered the dynamic process of creating new knowledge, identifying sources of this new knowledge and the elicitation and distribution of this knowledge.[15] The identification of tacit knowledge sources and the creation of knowledge through tacit to tacit knowledge sharing and tacit to explicit knowledge sharing are fundamental to this process.[16]

According to Parsaye, there are three major approaches to the capture of tacit knowledge from groups and individuals. They are:[17]

Interviewing experts can be done in the form of structured interviewing or by recording organizational stories. Structured interviewing of experts in a particular subject is the most commonly used technique to capture pertinent, tacit knowledge. An example of a structured interview would be an exit interview. Learning by being told can be done by interviewing or by task analysis. Either way, an expert teaches the novice the processes of a task. Task analysis is the process of determining the actual task or policy by breaking it down and analyzing what needs to be done to complete the task. Learning by observation can be done by presenting the expert with a sample problem, scenario, or case study and then observing the process used to solve the problem.[citation needed]

Some other techniques for capturing tacit knowledge are:[citation needed][original research?]

All of these approaches should be recorded in order to transfer the tacit knowledge into reusable explicit knowledge.

Professor Ikujiro Nonaka has proposed the SECI (Socialization, Externalization, Combination, Internalization) model, one of the most widely cited theories in knowledge management, to present the spiraling knowledge processes of interaction between explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge (Nonaka & Takeuchi 1995).

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Collins, H.M. "Tacit Knowledge, Trust and the Q of Sapphire" Social Studies of Science' pp. 71–85 31(1) 2001.
  2. ^ Polanyi, Michael (1966), The Tacit Dimension, University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 4.
  3. ^ a b Goffin, K. & Koners, U. (2011). Tacit Knowledge, Lessons Learnt, and New Product Development. J PROD INNOV MANAG, 28, 300–318.
  4. ^ a b c Schmidt, F. L., & Hunter, J. E. (1993). Tacit knowledge, practical intelligence, general mental ability, and job knowledge. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 2, 8–9.
  5. ^ Engel, P. J. H. (2008). Tacit knowledge and Visual Expertise in Medical Diagnostic Reasoning: Implications for medical education. Medical Teacher, 30, e184–e188. DOI: 10.1080/01421590802144260.
  6. ^ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicycle_and_motorcycle_dynamics
  7. ^ a b Lam, A. (2000). Tacit Knowledge, Organizational Learning and Societal Institutions: An Integrated Framework. Organization Studies 21(3), 487–513.
  8. ^ Lam, A. (2000). Tacit Knowledge, Organizational Learning and Societal Institutions: An Integrated Framework. Organization Studies 21(3), 487–51.
  9. ^ Angioni, G., Fare, dire, sentire: l'identico e il diverso nelle culture, Il Maestrale, 2011, 26–99
  10. ^ Polanyi, M, (1958) Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-67288-3
  11. ^ Hetherington, S, (2011) How to Know: A Practicalist Conception of Knowledge, Wiley-Blackwell, ISBN 9780470658123.
  12. ^ Collins, H.M. "Tacit Knowledge, Trust and the Q of Sapphire" Social Studies of Science' pp. 71–85 31(1) 2001
  13. ^ J.E. Gordon, "The new science of strong materials", Penguin books.
  14. ^ Nonaka, Ikujiro; Takeuchi, Hirotaka (1995), The knowledge creating company: how Japanese companies create the dynamics of innovation, New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 284, ISBN 978-0-19-509269-1.
  15. ^ McInerney, Claire (2002). "Knowledge Management and the Dynamic Nature of Knowledge". Journal Of The American Society For Information Science And Technology 53 (12): 1009–1018. 
  16. ^ Smith, Elizabeth A. (2001). "The role of tacit and explicit knowledge in the workplace". Journal of Knowledge Management 5 (4): 311 – 321. 
  17. ^ Parsaye, Kamran; Chignell, Mark (1988), Expert systems for experts, Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, p. 365, ISBN 978-0-471-60175-3 
  18. ^ Haldin-Herrgard, Tua (2000). "Difficulties in diffusion of tacit knowledge in organizations". Journal of Intellectual Capital 1 (4): 357 – 365. 

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