What Is Tacit Knowledge?

Tacit knowledge refers to the vast, unspoken, unwritten warehouse of knowledge that each person holds, which is based upon observations, emotions, experiences, intuition, insights, and internal information. Tacit knowledge is key to an individual’s consciousness, and it is acquired primarily through relationships with other individuals. It requires shared activities and communication to be imparted between humans. It acts as the underlying foundation of explicit knowledge. The Hungarian philosopher, Michael Polanyi introduced the concept in 1966 in his book “The Tacit Dimension.” Tacit knowledge is sometimes referred to as informal knowledge.

Tacit Knowledge Management

Tacit knowledge is the information we all possess that is gained from personal context and experience. Typically, it is the information that is difficult to articulate, write down, or deliver in a tangible format.

In the workplace, this type of knowledge is crucial to your team. As employees move to other jobs, their implicit knowledge goes with them. Tacit knowledge is important to the application of implicit knowledge that is specific to your organization. When an employee leaves, the implicit knowledge of your organization changes as well. For instance, you may have an excellent sales professional whose success is due to reading unspoken cues from potential customers.

Managing Tacit Knowledge in Organizations

Tacit knowledge management is a challenge. A KM system relies upon codification, which can be close to impossible to accomplish for the holder of the desirable tacit knowledge. For instance, it may be very difficult to concisely convey the art of reading facial expressions. That requires communicating an intuitive understanding garnered through years of practice and experience. Virtually all humans rely upon tacit knowledge to some extent.

For example, an IT technician uses personal experience and intuition when troubleshooting a problem. It may be difficult to codify that information in a document that communicates his particular expertise to a beginner. This is a prime reason that experience in a specific field is so highly valued in the job market.

The precise extent to which a KM solution can help in the capture, transfer, and enhancement of tacit knowledge is a lengthy topic. However, successful KM solutions must have a strong emphasis on this dimension of knowledge by focusing on employees and the processes involved. Knowledge management plays a crucial supporting role.

Tacit knowledge comprises the thoughts of each human stakeholder, values, cultural beliefs, mental models, attitudes, skills, expertise, and capabilities. Due to the challenges in productively managing tacit knowledge, organizations that succeed frequently enjoy a competitive advantage. You can start with your organization’s rules, manuals, processes, organizational culture, ethics, products, and codes of conduct. Keep in mind that tacit knowledge answers the question of why doing something a particular way is beneficial to the company.