There are so many things that we know and are aware of but can’t really put a finger on how you know those things or how someone can learn it from you.
This information is known as tacit knowledge.
According to the definition by Cambridge University Press, Tacit knowledge can never be captured through words alone but can be gained from personal experiences, like working at an organization.
People often say using the right words will help you understand it better yourself and also explain it to others.
But how do you teach tacit knowledge to people? How do you teach an individual about something that can only be known through experience?
Imitation of tacit knowledge is quite possible, if not completely being able to absorb it. You learn by copying someone until you internalize those efforts and the ways of doing the thing. Over the years, experts have found a way to communicate and educate people using tacit knowledge.
Organizations have achieved a lot through this technique. You will be familiar with some of them: Toyota, Amazon, Tesla, Siemens AG, etc.
In this blog, we are going to learn about tacit knowledge, how it is different from other types of knowledge, and how it can be beneficial for an organization to be able to record and practice it in their workspace.
Table of Content
What is Tacit Knowledge?
Any knowledge, information, skill, and ability that an individual has gained through experience of some sort which is often quite difficult to explain, communicate, or simply put into words are known as Tacit Knowledge.
Tacit knowledge is also commonly known as know-how knowledge, experiential knowledge, or Tribal knowledge. Terms like experiential and tribal clearly denote the fact that tacit knowledge comes into existence and spreads among people with the help of an organization. This tacit knowledge or tribal knowledge is not documented in any manner nor it is actively discussed or pointed out by someone from the teams.
Similarly, know-how clearly explains the science of tacit knowledge, which is, that it is difficult to explain how an individual or team member knows what he knows and how he gained that expertise. The word Tacit itself means the understanding of something without it being openly expressed to you, a knowledge that is implied or unspoken.
Why is Tacit Knowledge Necessary?
We have a lot of information and opinions surrounding us, stating the importance of tacit knowledge as a strategic resource that can help an organization in reaching its goals.
Tacit knowledge is more procedural and intuitive, it is not entirely based on facts. Let us take a look at some reasons why not just documenting but also transferring tacit knowledge is so important.
- If the organizations are able to draw out important explicit and implicit knowledge from subject matter experts, it can be useful in preparing people for challenges and building competence. We need to figure out which strategy or idea goes into the decision making and problem-solving method of an expert. This is where tacit knowledge comes into play.
- When an expert leaves a job, the organization not only loses an employee but a large amount of tacit knowledge because they failed to transfer the same to other members of the team of the organization. A loss like this is hard to recover from. It can prove to be costly and time-consuming, and in most cases impossible to replace. Organizations need to find ways to extract that tacit knowledge and not only store it, but to transfer it to people they think might benefit from this exchange. In terms of an organization’s future success and attaining goals, the transfer of tacit knowledge becomes an essential element.
- In many cases, organizations overwrite and lose the tacit knowledge they already possess. This can happen due to bad knowledge management. Any organization has all the required tacit and explicit knowledge already deeply embedded into its processes and procedures. To avoid such a loss, it is important to develop and manage the organization’s knowledge management system. They can also try to make it more explicit with the help of the right knowledge management strategies.
Tacit, Explicit, and Implicit Knowledge: What’s the Difference?
Tacit Knowledge and Implicit knowledge are often used interchangeably, but that is just not accurate in case of clearly defining what tacit or implicit means.
While tacit knowledge is something that cannot be expressed or explained, implicit knowledge is simply a form of explicit knowledge that has not been documented yet.
Implicit Knowledge is knowledge that is gained through incidental activities, or without awareness that learning is occurring.
One example of implicit knowledge is you knowing how to work with spreadsheets, a skill you mastered in the previous job. In order to change implicit knowledge into explicit knowledge, the only step required to do is record or document the knowledge word for word.
The understanding and the recording of knowledge is a key distinction between tacit and explicit knowledge. The recording and transferring of tacit knowledge is a much more complex, active, and engaging process. Compare this to creating and sharing SOPs with your employees. Seems like a piece of cake right?
When you are trying to classify each piece of knowledge or information, be it articles, how-tos, case studies, or tutorials, that are captured or recorded by your organization as either explicit, implicit, or tacit, it will not be as easy as it seems.
Even though no part of that information is noticeably different from the other and to inexperienced eyes, two articles may look alike, but in reality, extremes are very different from one another.
If we were to define tacit, explicit, and implicit knowledge, this is what we would mean by it:
- Explicit Knowledge: Any topic or piece of information that is easy to explain, record, and share by a person through a method or an example. The best example of this is any document or data shared on the knowledge management platform of your company. Ask yourself: Can I convert it into a formal document easily? If your answer is yes, then you have an explicit piece of information.
- Implicit Knowledge: The application or the way of using or applying explicit knowledge is called Implicit Knowledge. In a company, when you are able to transfer skills from one person to another, it is an example of implicit knowledge. Ask yourself: Do I need to formalize this information, or most of my employees will know it by default? If your answer is yes, then it is implicit information.
- Tacit Knowledge: According to Wikipedia, any knowledge or information experienced by a person that is quite difficult to explain or share by either writing it down or verbalizing is called Tacit Knowledge. Ask yourself: Is this knowledge gained only through hands-on experience? If you end up with a yes, then you have tacit information in your hands.
This comparison might have you wondering how exactly tacit knowledge is helpful if it is difficult to share or express?
In fact, Tacit knowledge is a powerful source of knowledge transfer. If it is approached through the right method, tacit knowledge can help a team member reach his full potential and contribute in a wholesome way toward the team.
Examples of Tacit Knowledge
You might be wondering what are some real-life situations in which tacit knowledge is the driving force? If you have the question in mind, the next set of points are situations in which tacit knowledge act as the support pillar.
Ideas & Innovation:
Having good ideas and innovating is a skill that is not always common and depends on several factors, it is not something that is easy to find or catch. There is always someone who can formulate ideas and come up with innovations better compared to others.
Leadership is a complex social skill that is often in-built in a person or a team member. Even though we have many workshops and activities for leadership, they are in fact a portal or a practice for natural leaders to get in touch with their leadership easily.
There is no guaranteed process that can transform you into a leader, it comes from experience, expertise, problem-solving, and the ability to take a stand.
Creativity & Aesthetics:
Aesthetics and artistic sense is a skill that is difficult to explain. Much like leadership, creativity, and appreciation for aesthetics is often ingrained in an individual right from the beginning.
There are ways in which a person can get in touch with their creative self and realize their potential. It might be easy to teach art or have an artistic way of looking at things, but the aesthetic sense is even more difficult to teach or transfer from one person to another, this is a really good example of Tacit Knowledge.
Emotional intelligence like other skills can be developed over time, but this skill cannot be explained with a definite structure. It is an objective skill and it is about having the ability to read emotions and use them to influence certain outcomes.
For individuals, emotional intelligence is about understanding each other and being able to read a person through verbal or non-verbal interaction.
Sense of Humour:
Sense of humor, like emotional intelligence, is an ability that can be developed, but it is extremely difficult to do so. It is about having the understanding or having the approach of looking at things from a lighter, funnier perspective.
A good sense of humor is all about finding things to laugh at, good timing, and taking a joke as good as you are at giving one.
Sales is considered to be a skill some people have right from their childhood and if they are not trained enough in it, they end up suppressing this skill. You will see people working in a sales team for years but not succeeding or being able to reach a satisfactory level. This is because sales is a skill that is inherent and cannot exactly be taught to you.
People often have a bunch of individuals following them and trying to learn their skills, but sales are among the skills that cannot be taught or transferred easily from one person to the other, another classic example of tacit knowledge.
Language is another major example of tacit knowledge. The notion of language cannot be taught. You cannot simply learn a language by learning the rules of grammar. The only way you pick it up is if you are a native speaker of the language or have been practicing it for a long period of time.
Native speakers often pick it up much easier because they are surrounded by it. So even if they are not aware of all the rules of grammar in the very beginning, they still speak the language very well and only get to know about the grammar rules at a much later stage.
5 Importance of Capturing Tacit Knowledge in Your Organization
Gaining new knowledge while retaining organizational concepts
Any organization has a vast amount of tacit knowledge which proves to be a valuable asset not only for the organization but also for its people. This asset is not just a figurative asset.
When a team has any amount of documented tacit knowledge it becomes proof of how responsible and dedicated your team is towards the goals of the company.
On the other hand, it provides team members with important insight into a company’s goals, vision, and mission. When such a knowledge base is created, it becomes easier for you to attract high-quality candidates who are looking to contribute and feel valued in a certain manner.
The same documentation of the tacit knowledge is useful for investors and stakeholders as it gives them confidence in their holdings and investments in your company because now they have proof to support it. The same documented tacit knowledge can help buyers of your business with the clarity of how it is going to benefit them.
The Cloud Tutorial’s categories and subcategories option in their knowledge sharing system can help anyone trying to access the experience and knowledge base. When you are able to document tacit knowledge, you are creating knowledge capital for your organization and the individuals related to it. Knowledge capital is helpful for retaining old employees while hiring new ones.
Effective Communication in an organization:
When team members are able to absorb knowledge from working with fellow employees and gaining more experience, it is referred to as tacit or tribal knowledge. This provides you with an opportunity to see if the transfer of knowledge from individual to another or one team to another is happening or not.
Sometimes, even the teams you have worked with for a long time will not have gained that tacit knowledge. The reason for this is that the team members often aren’t even aware of the tacit knowledge available to them. Such a situation might arise in a case where there is hardly any interaction between the employees.
This is why having tacit knowledge recorded, documented, and communicated to your employees become so much more important. You will be able to see changes when this information is made visible to them and met with practice from the employees.
Onboarding new employees also become easier for the organization. Each new individual is required to learn about the processes and ways of working at the organization. The codification of tacit knowledge adds even more value to the existing knowledge content of the company while making the new employees learn how to do their tasks efficiently.
When knowledge capital is upgraded and given new additions, the teams can tackle each process more effectively. This practice of increasing knowledge capital and having tacit knowledge recorded shows that information only becomes more valuable when it is given context. When used in proper context, tacit knowledge can motivate your employees to share their own tacit knowledge with ease.
Through The Cloud Tutorial, the knowledge or questions are answered and effective communication is set up between the company and its clients. Having content that helps the users or clients better understand the products and services will result in a good user experience and is a sign of great customer support.
Helps in learning new skills
Organizations have a clearly designed and worked-out process and strategy that can be developed into best practices for the employees. Each individual has a different level of understanding and experience and based on these, the explanations of your tacit knowledge need to be created into expert systems that are developed by experts who have helped in the transfer of tacit knowledge from one person to another.
When expertise is shared and a knowledge base is created it helps individuals in practicing their old skills while picking up some new ones on their way. It is also about setting up the right example for the people who are going to enter the workforce at a later stage.
Subject matter experts have stated that when knowledge is shared in the form of content and each topic is designed carefully and in a way that people find it informative and useful, they are bound to learn a few useful skills from this process. The same happens on social networks where people try in so many ways to be expressive and share their tacit knowledge through words.
Helps in Tracking progress:
Having recorded and documented tacit knowledge creates a benchmark that can be aimed at for the organization and the individuals related to it. When you have a carefully designed system that is made to teach people, it is important that you are able to track their progress as well.
The same tacit knowledge that you have been recording and transferring through different channels can help you in making aware of the progress the organization is making.
The benchmarks provided by the knowledge capital work as end goals for individuals, teams, and the whole organization. When you try to compare how the learning curve has shaped with the expectations from the benchmarks or goals set by the knowledge capital, you are able to effectively track the progress.
The reports in The Cloud Tutorial makes it easier for you to track information and documents. You are able to view these documents in terms of performance and usefulness. This can help you in tracking the progress of the knowledge base you share and whether or not you are successful in transferring tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge. Features like Reports aren’t present in all similar platforms, even something like HelpJuice Inc.
Enhances Innovation and Productivity:
When knowledge capital is developed collaboratively by receiving information from all the teams, the employees and the organization are bound to perform much better and be far more productive. When this kind of knowledge capital is already available, it eliminates the chances of mistakes or errors being done by the employees.
When you avoid errors, you save a lot of time, energy, and resources and invest the same time and resources to more pressing matters or something that requires immediate attention.
Employees gain a new perspective and this can open up a completely new domain for them which have higher chances of a breakthrough. It can also support and push employees to think outside-the-box and take up responsibilities they would otherwise be intimated to take up.
Similarly, The Cloud Tutorial has a customization feature that allows you to come up with innovative themes, domains, fonts, colors, etc according to your requirements. You do not have to be tech-savvy, but it still tries to enhance innovation and productivity in the way you present your content.
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Tacit Knowledge exists all around us, everywhere you see. There is really not much difference whether it is a cerebral form or physical form of knowledge. One of the best examples to explain this is to imagine the ability to create great art, it could be a painting or a dance routine or a piece of music, and compare it with other forms of physical art like sculpting and cooking.
Tacit knowledge is best explained and understood when it is accepted as a fact rather than a point on the checklist that you want to mark as done by performing an activity. If it were that simple, tacit knowledge wouldn’t hold the kind of value it does now.
The only thing you should do is try to think of ways to gain this tacit knowledge rather than thinking if it can be made explicit. Explicit and Tacit knowledge shouldn’t be thought of as something that can be brought together.
The main aim of this blog is to be able to clearly explain what tacit knowledge is using the right set of examples. This also allows us to discuss how tacit knowledge is different from explicit or implicit knowledge and whether or not tacit knowledge can really be made into explicit knowledge.
In addition to this, we were also successful in making it clear why recording and documenting tacit knowledge is so important. Knowledge Management Platforms like The Cloud Tutorial makes it easier for organizations to create content for its users and employees.
This way they can share all the information or knowledge that might hold important to their clients, users, or employees. They also innovate by finding new methods of engaging their users with new knowledge. To get more such in-detail blogs on a knowledge-sharing platform, you can subscribe to our newsletter and get regular updates.