Leveraging Tacit Knowledge

During a demo of doHow® an expert said that doHow® incorporates all elements of knowledge management and is a very innovative way of tacit knowledge management. Today, I thought of sharing my thoughts on knowledge management in this blog.

Let me start with the two types of organisational knowledge – Explicit and Tacit. Explicit knowledge is that which can be documented and stored in a repository. Process Mapping, Content Development, Search Engines, Articles, Blogs, Papers, Policies, Guidelines, Procedures, Instructions, Drawings, Manuals, Videos, Audios, Images, etc. are various examples of explicit knowledge management. In this space we have made significant progress with the evolution in information technology. Currently it is also possible to use machine learning to retrieve explicit knowledge quite easily. A day-to-day example I can think of is the way YouTube shows up the videos of my liking without me noticing.

The tacit knowledge is another story all together.

What is tacit knowledge?

Our memories and experiences in diverse situations are actually the sources of tacit knowledge. One can call it the gut feel or the intuition. In my case, without me putting in any effort, the moment any performance is shown, I would first want to know the trend – adverse or favourable. Then the gap to target. I would then directly start intuitively thinking of the drivers that could be creating this gap to target. I do this naturally. I am sure you too will be doing something naturally without knowing at all. That is actually tacit knowledge. It is the inherent wisdom in each member of a team that contributes to both individual and team problem solving ability. Continuously solving problems, using tacit knowledge, takes us to success, as we all know.

In my experience, first as an executive and then as an entrepreneur dealing with executives from diverse companies, each and every problem is unique due to the multiple reality drivers influencing the problem, each of these having many variations.

Problem Drivers

Even a common problem of delays in release of purchase orders for a project is unique in each case. With one client it was due to the executive releasing the POs was doing sundry work, in another client it was due to a management decision for cash flow regulation, in another client it was due to delay in getting at least 3 quotes for each item to comply with the company policy. Imagine trying to solve this problem with just explicit knowledge.

Different People

One gets stuck very fast!!! Instead with tacit knowledge one basically pulls out from the metal database multiple experiences and memories relating to the current problem and comes up with an analysis and a solution, everyone coming up with his/her unique solution for the same problem. I want to stress that the solution is always unique when one looks at the minute details, while it may appear to be similar or even identical at a macro level.

Since each one of us are continuously generating new memories and experiences, when confronted with the same problem after some time, our solutions will be different each time due to the new tacit knowledge we have acquired.

Different Timings

Every problem is unique, every individual has his/her own unique solution for this problem at a given time, and every individual has different solutions for the same problem at different times. Isn’t this very chaotic and complex. Well, you got it right. Of course, it is. That is why the tacit knowledge is so important for success.

How do you then manage tacit knowledge in a company? The only solution I know and practice is to keep debating and discussing on contextual topics with active involvement both formally during meetings and informally during get-togethers. The expert I mentioned earlier, may have liked doHow® for getting people to speak informally in a formal setting.

As usual, I will end my blog with a quote by Michael Polanyi:

“While tacit knowledge can be possessed by itself, explicit knowledge must rely on being tacitly understood and applied. Hence all knowledge is either tacit or rooted in tacit knowledge. A wholly explicit knowledge is unthinkable.”

Happy reading!

4 thoughts on “Leveraging Tacit Knowledge”

  1. Tacit knowledge can be passed down only through Guru shishya parampara ( student – teacher direct interaction ) . There is no other better means for this .

    1. Very true, Prakash. In fact, the main mode of learning in the ancient Indian universities was through debates and discussions and the same is true even in today’s top universities, unfortunately most of them foreign.

  2. In other words the experience we seek in a resource is directly the tacit knowledge he comes with. After reading this, the tacit know-how in our industry esp OOH advertising is amazing. No wonder very few companies survive beyond the first 2 years of inception.

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