Knowledge can be classified into two major categories:
- Explicit Knowledge – This type of knowledge is said to be easy to transfer through oral and written communication. Books, articles, standards, procedural manuals are some examples of media that can be used to transmit explicit knowledge.
- Tacit Knowledge – This type of knowledge cannot be directly transferred from one individual to another using oral and written communication. It has to go through a process that will convert it into explicit knowledge. A disadvantage of this, however, is that tacit knowledge tends to lose a significant chunk of its meaning during the process of conversion. However, tacit knowledge can also be “transferred” without going through a conversion process. This involves a group of individuals operating within a community of practice. In this manner, an individual within that group gains tacit knowledge through practice and the guidance of her peers.
A very simple example: Books about learning to ride a bike (if there ever was one!) contain explicit knowledge. However, many would agree that no matter how many times you read such a book, you will not become an expert biker unless you actually practice riding one (a bike, not a book). Thus we say that practice provides the necessary tacit knowledge to ride a bike effectively.
Since explicit knowledge is easy to transfer and document, the use of automation tools will have a significant impact in managing such type of knowledge. On the other hand, forcing such tools to capture tacit knowledge, while possible, can be very costly and highly inefficient. First, forcing employees to convert their tacit into explicit knowledge can take its toll on their morale. Second, because tacit knowledge can lose a significant chunk of its meaning during conversion, the resulting document may not be of real value to anyone in the organisation. Thus, tacit knowledge is significantly more challenging to manage. However, there are also compelling reasons why a firm needs to find ways to effectively managing it. First, tacit knowledge is difficult to recognise, articulate, and share. This means that it is not easily duplicated by competition and thus can be a source of competitive advantage. Second, tacit knowledge “sticks” to the person that holds it. Thus, if that person leaves, so will the tacit knowledge.
So how then can an organisation effectively manage its knowledge? Ah, an excellent topic for future posts.