Tacit and Explicit Knowledge

Nonaka classified knowledge as explicit and tacit. This concept has become the center piece of knowledge management and fundamental concept in process improvement.

Explicit knowledge is documented and accepted knowledge. Tacit knowledge stems more from experience and is more undocumented in nature. In spite of being difficult to interpret and transfer, tacit knowledge is regarded as the root of all organizational knowledge.

Tacit knowledge, unlike its explicit counterpart, mostly consists of perceptions and is often unstructured and non-documented in nature. Therefore, mental models, justification of beliefs, heuristics, judgments, “gut feelings” and the communication skills of the individual can influence the quality of tacit knowledge.

The process of creation of knowledge begins with the creation and sharing of tacit knowledge, which stems from socialization, facilitation of experience and interactive capacity of individuals with their coworkers.

Creation and Sharing of Knowledge

Knowledge creation involved organizations and it’s individual transcending the boundaries of the old to the new by acquiring new knowledge, which is considered to be mostly tacit in nature. The key to tacit knowledge sharing lies in the willingness and capacity of individuals to share what they know (knowledge donation) and to use what they learn (knowledge collection).

Knowledge quality is the acquisition of useful and innovative knowledge and is the degree to which people are satisfied with the quality of the shared knowledge and find it useful in accomplishing their activities. The quality of knowledge can be measured by frequency, usefulness and innovativeness, and can be innovative or new for the system or organization. However, if the knowledge is not beneficial to achieving the objective of the objective of the organization then it does not fulfill the criteria of knowledge quality. There are six attributes to knowledge quality: adaptability, innovativeness, applicability, expandability, justifiability and authenticity,

Sources

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Knowledge Transfer

Our organizations are based on the interactions of individuals, teams and other organizations into a complex adaptive environment. We need to manage productive relationships as part of a complex system and interactions among parts can produce valuable, new, and unpredictable capabilities that are not inherent in any of the parts acting alone. This is why knowledge management, having a learning culture, is such a fundamental part of the work we do.

There are seven major categories we engage in when we manage, maintain, and create knowledge.

ActivityConvertsInvolvingMeaning
SocializationTacit-to-Tacitdifferent agentsSharing of tacit knowledge between individuals
IntrospectionTacit-to-Tacit same agentThe conscious or unconscious examination of one’s own tacit knowledge, as taken at an individual level
ExternalizationTacit-to-Explicitagent to knowledge managementThe expression of tacit knowledge and its translation into comprehensible forms interpretable by external agents
CombinationExplicit-to-ExplicitAll usersThe conversion of explicit knowledge into other variants of explicit knowledge
InternalizationExplicit-to-TacitTraining and deliberate practiceThe conversion of explicit knowledge into tacit knowledge
ConceptualizationAction-to-TacitContinuous ImprovementThe creation of tacit knowledge from aspects related to real work actions.
ReificationTacit-to-ActionProcess/ProcedureThe activity of bringing tacit knowledge into action (e.g. translating a mental model of a process activity into the actual operating tasks)
Knowledge Work Activities

As can be seen in the table above these seven activities involve moving between tacit and explicit knowledge. The apply to both declarative and procedural knowledge.

Examples of tacit and explicit knowledge

Socialization

Socialization is the level of interaction between, and communication of, various actors within an organization, which leads to the building of personal familiarity, improved communication, and problem solving. Often called learning the roles, this is the the process by which an individual acquires the social knowledge and skills necessary to assume an organizational role. Socialization encourages two-way information exchange, builds and establishes relationship trust, and enable transparency of information.

Socialization creates an operating style, enabling people to communicate with each other, have a language that they all understand and behavioral styles that are compatible. It reinforces basic assumptions and shares espoused values by helping create common norms and compatible cultures.

Socialization enables many influencing tactics which makes it critical for change management activities.

Introspection

The exploration of our experiences. Introspection can arise naturally but it can also arise deliberatively, for example journaling.

Introspection can also include retrospection, especially as a group activity. This is the strength of lessons learned.

Externalization

The work of making the tacit explicit. Knowledge management as continuous improvement.

Combination

The combination of knowledge drives innovation and a learning culture. This includes the ability to identify different sources of knowledge, understand different learning processes, and combine internal and external knowledge effectively.

Knowledge combination capability generates through exchange of knowledge between individuals and work teams is a process that allows the transfer of knowledge to the organization and that can be applied to develop and improve products and processes.

Internalization

As we move towards qualification we internalize knowledge.

Conceptualization

The insights gained from doing and observing work. Deliberative learning.

Reification

The process of translating work-as-imagined into work-as-done through work-as-prescribed on a continuous loop of improvement. The realm of transformative learning.