tacit knowledge

tacit knowledge

via  the connected company – Dave Gray:

Knowledge can be classified into tow categories: explicit knowledge, which can be counted quantified, documented, and easily shared, and tacit knowledge, which includes things that are difficult to measure and share, like expertise, technical know-ow, informal relationships, intuition, metal models, beliefs, and trust. It is tacit knowledge that constitutes our understanding of reality, and tacit knowledge makes up the bulk of the knowledge in most organizations. As the saying goes, the company’s intellectual property walks out the door every evening.


Harold Jarche (@hjarche) tweeted at 5:00 AM – 17 Jul 2018 :
“Tacit knowledge cannot be “captured”, “translated”, or “converted” but only displayed & manifested … New knowledge comes about not when the tacit becomes explicit, but when our skilled performance is punctuated in new ways through social interaction” https://t.co/353SoRn9zs (http://twitter.com/hjarche/status/1019175016636743680?s=17)

from 18 pg pdf:


In the paper I show why the idea of focussing on a set of tacitly known particulars and “converting” them into explicit knowledge is unsustainable.

Tacit knowledge cannot be “captured”, “translated”, or “converted” but only displayed & manifested … New knowledge comes about not when the tacit becomes explicit, but when our skilled performance is punctuated in new ways through social interaction


I will first explore the nature of tacit knowledge by drawing primarily on Polanyi (the inventor of the term), an author who is frequently referred to but little understood.


One of the most distinguishing features of Polanyi’s work is his insistence on overcoming well established dichotomies such as theoretical vs. practical knowledge, sciences vs. the humanities or, to put it differently, his determination to show the common structure underlying all kinds of knowledge.


“All knowing”, he insists, “is personal knowing – participation through indwelling”

The crucial role of the body in the act of knowing has been persistently underscored by Polanyi


For Polanyi the starting point towards answering this question is to acknowledge that “the aim of a skilful performance is achieved by the observance of a set of rules which are not known as such to the person following them” (Polanyi, 1962:49). A cyclist, for example, does not normally know the rule that keeps her balance, nor does a swimmer know what keeps him afloat. Interestingly, such ignorance is hardly detrimental to their effective carrying out of their respective tasks.

no rule is helpful in guiding action unless it is assimilated and lapses into unconsciousness. And partly because there is a host of other particular elements to be taken into account, which are not included in this rule and, crucially, are not known by the cyclist. Skills retain an element of opacity and unspecificity; they cannot be fully accounted for in terms of their particulars, since their practitioners do not ordinarily know what those particulars are; even when they do know them, as for example in the case of topographic anatomy, they do not know how to integrate them (Polanyi, 1962: 88-90)


t we can be aware of certain things in a way that is quite different from focussing our attention to them.

once you have learned to play the piano you cannot go back to being ignorant of how to do it. While you can certainly focus your attention on how you move your fingers, thus making your performance clumsy to the point of paralyzing it, you can always recover your ability by casting your mind forward to the music itself.


It should be clear from the above that for Polanyi, from a gnosiological point of view, there is no difference whatsoever between tangible things like probes, sticks, or hammers on the one hand, and intangible constructions such as radiological, linguistic, or cultural knowledge on the other – they are all tools enabling a skilled user to get things done.

It is only when we dwell in the tools we use, make them extensions of our own body, that we amplify the powers of our body and shift outwards the points at which we make contact with the world outside (Polanyi, 1962:59; 1969:148; Polanyi and Prosch, 1975:37). Otherwise our use of tools will be clumsy and will get in the way of getting things done.


It is precisely because what needs to be known cannot be specified in detail that the relevant knowledge must be passed from master to apprentice. “To learn by example”, says Polanyi (1962:53), “is to submit to authority. You follow your master because you trust his manner of doing things even when you cannot analyse and account in detail for its effectiveness. By watching the master and emulating his efforts in the presence of his example, the apprentice unconsciously picks up the rules of the art, including those which are not explicitly known to the master himself. These hidden rules can be assimilated only by a person who surrenders himself to that extent uncritically to the imitation of another”.

“at first, everything was a surprise” (Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1995:104), as she put it. Her “repeated failures” (op.cit., p.104) were due not to lack of knowledge as such, but due to not having interiorised – dwelled in – the relevant knowledge yet.


neither “transferred” her tacit knowledge to the engineers, nor did she “convert” her kneading skill into explicit knowledge, as Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995:104&105) suggest. She could do neither of these things simply because, following Polanyi’s and Oakeshott’s definitions of tacit and practical knowledge respectively, skillful knowing contains an ineffable element; it is based on an act of personal insight that is essentially inarticulable.


roger on if ai can do tacit knowledge

@hjarche of course its possible; but modern AI wants to do that by counting and pattern matching; to do it requires understanding how knowledge is acquired; we aren’t there yet
Original Tweet: https://twitter.com/rogerschank/status/1034181779106791424