Tacit knowledge is implicit knowledge. It is hard to verbalize and is sometimes expressed through action. It is difficult to codify and is generally learned through extended periods of time (through experience or observation). Tacit knowledge is hard to transfer or verbalize but can be learned and shared (Choo, 1998, Nonaka, 1991, 1994, Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1995).
Tacit knowledge is vital to an organization because organizational innovation can only be created through the implicit knowledge of its members (Leonard and Swap, 1999; Leonard-Burton, 1995). Common ways to transfer tacit knowledge are apprenticeships and mentoring. Tacit knowledge can also be shared through analogies, metaphors, models, and stories (Choo, 1998).
To better understand tacit knowledge, perhaps it may be easiest to frame a few examples . Think of a car mechanic, who can build a good sense of what is wrong with a car, just by the sound of it. Or the knowledge a professional tennis player has to intuitively be where they need to be in order to have the best chance of making a winning shot. In either case the knowledge is implicit, hard to codify, and requires time to develop.
Explicit knowledge is knowledge that can be codified using a system of symbols and is easily shared (Nonaka and Takeuchi 1995). It is object based when the knowledge is codified using a strings of symbols (words, numbers, formulas) or in physical objects (equipment, documents, models). It is rule based when the knowledge is codified into rules, routines, or standard operating procedures (Choo, 1998).
Choo (1998, p. 112-113) defines cultural knowledge as consisting of, “the cognitive and affective structures that are habitually used by organizational members to perceive, explain, evaluate, and construct reality. [It is] uncodified and broadly diffused over links and relationships that connect a group.”
Sackmann (1991, 1992 as qtd in Choo, 1998) identifies four kinds of cultural knowledge in an organization: dictionary knowledge (describes the "what" of situations), directory knowledge (describes the "how" of processes), recipe knowledge (what action "should" be taken), and axiomatic knowledge (account for "why" events happen). In their discussion Sackmann and others fail to address the “who”. The next section will examine this question closer.
As previously mentioned, tacit knowledge can be shared through communal stories or shared experiences (mentorship, apprenticeships etc.), but how do we have a sense of who we should share the stories with? In some cases managers make these decisions for us, but in others we are faced with infinite options; especially when the problem domain is vague. Social knowledge encompasses intuitive assessments of whom to trust (which is difficult to codify) (Edmondson, 2002) and awareness of who knows what (easier to codify) (Moreland, 1999). Figure 1 examines the ease to which organizational knowledge can be codified. Note that social knowledge falls in the same region as cultural knowledge because it encompasses both tacit and explicit elements. Employees gather social knowledge over time through relationships and conversations, if a long time employee is replaced; the new employee will not have the same sense of knowing how to get their idea heard, where to go for problems, or whom they could trust.
to be uploaded Figure 1: Ease of which knowledge can be codified
Boisot (1995, as qtd. in Choo, 1998) would argue that social knowledge is both codified knowledge (in the form of HR records and directories), uncodified, and undiffused knowledge (in the sense that a person might feel that another person can be trusted or that the person would be able to understand, help, or care). To get a better sense of social knowledge let us look at some examples.
If one discovered a new method for doing a task they would likely share their discovery with other people to whom that piece of knowledge seems most relevant. An example may be an automotive engineer introducing a new type of braking system or a computer programmer developing an automation technique. These people would likely share their discovery with others who either:
Seeking Advice / Situations of Trust The same logic plays out when seeking advice or help; one is most likely to approach the person/people (sometimes a system) they feel can help (or an answer lies within). Much like sharing discoveries and risking your ideas be stolen, seeking advice contains elements of trust.
Let us take the example of a CEO in a poor performing company knowing where to go to seek additional financing. Chances are the CEO has an intuition of which financial institutions could be receptive to the problem and will not attack the task blindly. In an organization social knowledge develops over time and is enriched through vivid social networks.
Nonaka, I. (1991). The Knowledge Creating Company. Harvard Business Review, Nov-Dec, pp. 96-104.
Nonaka, I. (1994). A dynamic theory of organizational knowledge creation. Organization Science, 5(1), 14-37.
Nonaka, I., & Takeuchi, H. (1995). The knowledge creating company: How Japanese companies create the dynamics of innovation. New York: Oxford University Press.
Choo, C.W. (1998). The Knowing Organization: How Organizations Use Information to Construct Meaning, Create Knowledge, and Make Decisions. New York: Oxford University Press.