2.2.2 Tacit Knowledge

2.2.2 Tacit Knowledge

            Tacit knowledge is found in the human minds. It includes cultural beliefs, values, attitudes, mental models, etc. as well as skills, capabilities and expertise (Botha et al 2008). This type of knowledge was originally defined by Polanyi (1966). His famous dictum, “We know more than we can tell” points to the phenomenon that much that comprises any human skill remains unarticulated and known only to the person who has that skill.  Therefore, tacit knowledge is sometimes referred to as know-how (Brown & Duguid 1998) and refers to intuitive that is largely experience based. Hence, tacit knowledge is often context dependent and personal in nature.

            From an organizational perspective, tacit knowledge available to an organization will largely remains in the heads of which means the dissemination of knowledge in an organization can best be accomplished by the transfer of people as “knowledge carriers” from one part of an organization to another. Learning in an organization can occur when individuals come together under circumstances that encourage them to share their ideas and (hopefully) to develop new insights together that will lead to the creation of new knowledge. Therefore, managing tacit knowledge in organization is a relatively easy and inexpensive.

            Sometimes it is argued that making knowledge explicit increases the risk that knowledge will be “leaked” from an organization, so that leaving knowledge in tacit form also helps to protect a firm’s proprietary knowledge from diffusing to competing organizations. Therefore, tacit knowledge is regarded as being the most valuable source of knowledge, and the most likely to lead to breakthroughs in the organization (Wellman, 2009).

            KM community has a very hard time handling this type of knowledge. One of the key issues is that as tacit knowledge is essentially personal in nature and is therefore difficult to extract from the heads of individuals and hard to communicate (Nonaka 1994). It poses a challenge to organizational managers to learn about what specific kinds of knowledge the individuals in their organization know. But the problem is that some individuals in an organization may claim to have knowledge that they do not actually have or may claim to be more knowledgeable than they really are (Stein and Ridderstrale, 2001). Also, the knowledge that various individuals have is likely to evolve over time and may require frequent updating to correctly communicate the type of knowledge each individual in the organization claims to have now.

There is another problem if knowledge only remains tacit in the heads of individuals in an organization, then the only way to move knowledge within the organization is to move people.  As we already know moving people is often costly and time-consuming and may be resisted by individuals who fear disruptions of their careers or family life. Even when knowledgeable individuals are willing to be moved, an individual can only be in one place at a time and can only work so many hours per day and days per week, thereby limiting the reach and the speed of the organization in transferring an individual’s knowledge. Moreover, sometimes transferred individuals may not be accepted by other groups in the organization or may otherwise fail to establish good rapport with other individuals and the desired knowledge transfer may not take place or may occur only partially. Most seriously, leaving knowledge tacit in the heads of key individuals creates a risk that the organization may lose that knowledge if any of those individuals becomes incapacitated, leaves the organization, or -- in the worst case -- is recruited by competitors (Sanchez, 2012).