14 Important Facts about Tacit Knowledge

In this blog post, I will share 14 important facts about tacit knowledge. Implicit or tacit knowledge cannot be (easily) codified, stored and transferred.

  1. Tacit knowledge or implicit knowledge is the type of knowledge that cannot be (easily) codified, stored and transferred, as opposed to explicit knowledge, or “normal” data found in books, company archives, etc.
  2. There are different degrees of “implicity” : from subconscious knowledge, e.g. knowing how to ride a bike, to nearly-explicit knowledge that could under circumstances be codified and transferred, for example unwritten workflow procedures in an organization.
  3. There exists a theory of the duality of knowledge, stating that every explicit knowledge (such as information in the text) is almost always combined with implicit knowledge (“reading between the lines”).
  4. Tacit knowledge includes both common, everyday knowledge (e.g. cultural values) and knowledge applicable in limited setting (e.g. knowledge existing in business organizations).
  5. Most of tacit knowledge is never attempted for codification, as it is perceived as “obvious” by people sharing the knowledge and its presence is hard to detect for an outsider.
  6. A competitive advantage of an organization is almost always rooted in tacit knowledge (know-how as opposed to know-what). Thus, tacit knowledge does play a positive role in protecting the competitive advantage against imitation.
  7. Pools of tacit knowledge in an organization appear automatically as a result of organizational knowledge growth and interaction within members of organization. Some members may willingly accumulate “nearly-tacit” knowledge, in an effort to increase their importance or make themselves inalienable in the organization.
  8. Smaller companies often have a higher percentage of tacit knowledge, this explained by the absence of codified procedures and lower level of bureaucracy. In larger organization, pools of tacit knowledge are likely to emerge within company departments thus influencing the communication along the command lines and between the departments in an organization with functional or divisional structure.
  9. Tacit knowledge could be shared by an indefinite number of people in an organization, however it is not always passed on from one member of staff to another, neither it is automatically acquired by a new member of staff after formal training and acquisition of explicit knowledge.
  10. Tacit knowledge inevitably influences processes and output in an organization, however, this influence is difficult to detect and measure. Furthermore, it is reflected in how members in an organization interact with each other on the daily basis and within terminated projects. It often serves as an underlying reason why some projects do not result in productive team work or simply fail.
  11. An organization should thrive to detect the areas where tacit knowledge has the largest influence and scrutinize the ways to control and measure this influence. The detection of pools of tacit knowledge can take place through observation of interactions of staff and management, analyzing the processes of internal knowledge transfer, comparing the outcome of less and more successful projects, where the reason for under-performance does not lie on the surface as well as through strategic analysis of the existing core competencies.
  12. After the pools of tacit knowledge have been detected, it must be decided whether to externalize and make the knowledge explicit and available to a wider circle of recipients. In any case, it is important to monitor how tacit knowledge develops over time and whether its influence on the internal processes becomes overwhelming.
  13. Nonaka (1991) offers a conversion scheme for implicit knowledge, consisting of:
    1. socialization (observing and imitating the activity carried out with implicit knowledge);
    2. externalization (setting up a dialog between the knowledge carrier and knowledge receiver that uses verbal or visual sources for explanation);
    3. combination (arranging derived bits of explicit knowledge and making it transferable);
    4. internalization (translating the codified explicit knowledge into the individual implicit knowledge).
  14. The efforts towards externalization of implicit knowledge should be taken with the idea of organizational knowledge sharing and knowledge growing, not simply codifying and storing the data. The main problem is that the vast amounts of data in a modern organization are explicit by nature, but the ability to handle them is mostly implicit. Thus, the importance of tacit knowledge management must never be underestimated.
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Author: Elena

I acquired a BA degree in International Business with a specialization in Marketing from Nuremberg Technical School and a parallel degree from Leeds Metropolitan University. In 2013-2014, I worked in the field of performance and conversion optimization with an IT company and then was employed in content marketing. In 2016, I went back to working with Web Analytics and gained additional experience in project management. During this time, I received an Award of Achievement in Digital Analytics from the University of British Columbia (Canada). Currently, I am employed in Online Marketing. My areas of specialization include online marketing strategy, content creation, web analytics, conversion optimization and usability.

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