10 November 2015

Do you know that, or is it just something you remembered?

I have struggled for a little while with the Tacit/Explicit model of knowledge, feeling it was incomplete. The Cambridge Dictionary defines Tacit Knowledge as "knowledge that you do not get from books or being taught, but from personal experience". This basically rules out the idea of Tacit/Explicit transfer, leading to what James Dellow claims is a choice of either "Perfect knowledge capture or nothing at all".

Uriarte's book "Introduction to Knowledge Management" from 2008 discussed the concept of implicit knowledge. Implicit knowledge is basically "remembered facts". ie: Internal knowledge that is possible to be written down or made explicit.

Likewise, the "Internalisation" part of Nonaka's SECI model turns explicit knowledge in to implicit knowledge but not tacit (as is claimed), which comes from the personal embodiment of decision, behaviour and action.  Nonaka has been widely criticised for SECI's many failures in practice and I submit that this confusion between implicit and tacit knowledge may be one reason why.

This was discussed in a debate at the KM Australia Congress in 2011 which has been blogged about by both Aprill Allen and Brad Hinton (I recommend reading both) and one of the reason's I think this is important is captured in David Snowden's comment on Brad's blog where he points out that "(true) tacit knowledge transfer in general takes place through doing – apprentice models come to mind".  In other words understanding the distinction directly effects the types of solutions we implement to transfer knowledge. I would argue that our almost total abandonment of the apprenticeship model has resulted in untold loss of tacit knowledge over the last two decades.

It seems the Tacit-Implicit-Explicit may also help when drawing a line between IT and KM.  Helen Palmer's excellent treatise on this touches on the Tacit/Explicit divide being one of the key factors. Adding Implicit may allow for a slightly clearer look at the interface between the two, especially when it comes to learning, capturing expertise, following workflows, etc, and possibly, just possibly, opening the way to more formal learning while doing.  The computers may be new. The software may be becoming more social. But in evolutionary terms, the last thousand years is nothing and human brains have hardly changed. If we already have an amazing way of transferring tacit knowledge, proven by 1000+ years use in guilds, societies and trades, I would argue it is time to consider both old and new ways of getting the right knowledge to the right people at the right time.

If you are interested in this and want to get a grip on it, consider the KM-101 course from KMRt where it is discussed in depth as we look at pragmatic ways to improve knowledge flows in your organisation.

What do you think?  Does the Tacit-Implicit-Explicit model help you explain KM better?  Are there situations it doesn't explain?  Should we start including Implicit in our conversations with non-KM people so they start to understand the distinction?  I would love to hear your thoughts.

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