The Two Types of Knowledge: Tacit and Explicit

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From the above, it can be noticed that despite there being no uniform definition for knowledge amongst the experts of the early days of knowledge management, knowledge is consistently defined in relation with action or the capability to bring about an action.

Several of the definitions covered so far are fairly general, however the one by Pillania (2004) is more precise and to-the-point for the business context as it takes into account the social and professional aspects and also conveys fairly clearly the essential elements required for doing business.

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The two types of knowledge – Tacit and Explicit

It has been largely recognized amongst academics in the knowledge management field that knowledge in organizations can be categorized into two kinds – tacit knowledge and explicit knowledge.

Cognitive and technical elements make up tacit knowledge, and it is quite hard to describe because it is saved in the brain of a person, and happens either consciously or subconsciously. This form of knowledge is gathered and acquired through learning and encounters - it is formed by communicating with people and surroundings. Time and practice; trails and errors; successes and failures are the elements that propagate tacit knowledge.

Because tacit knowledge is really within a person, it may be somewhat challenging to express or articulate perfectly. The degree to which it is shared and expressed also depends on the individual’s intention. Therefore the sharing of tacit knowledge within an enterprise is not straightforward or easy. However, there are many activities (i.e. workshops and training sessions) and technologies (email and instant messaging) to facilitate this process and make it easier.

The management of tacit knowledge is also tricky because the knowledge that is beneficial to the enterprise needs to first be spotted out before it can be bring value to the enterprise. However, once this knowledge is identified, it’s value is tremendous, because it is very difficult for competitors to copy. This knowledge becomes a valuable and unique asset to the enterprise, in other words, it becomes a competitive advantage. Therefore it is very important for an enterprise to be able to spot this knowledge, extract it and use it wisely.

It doesn’t matter what type of enterprise we speak of, tacit knowledge is always a crucial factor that contributes towards a sound decision. To better understand this concept, here is an example: A newly recruited executive who just joined the company is not yet familiar with the company. It will take him time to figure out how things work around the company. Hence, it is quite difficult for him to immediately start making decisions that are well-grounded because he does not yet have any tacit knowledge, nor does he have any first-hand experience with the mechanisms of the company. This is the value of tacit knowledge – it is pivotal to completing tasks and producing value.

The members of an enterprise need to constantly create new tacit knowledge and this happens through the everyday interactions and situations. There is and should be constant learning in an enterprise if is to remain in a competitive position. Explicit knowledge, on the other hand, is an emblematic structure of knowledge. It can be expressed, represented and communicated easily, i.e. the technical handbook of a helicopter or an apple pie recipe. This form of knowledge can not just be stored in paper, but can be easily stored in any other type of storage medium. Explicit knowledge can thus be incorporated into equipments, commodities, functions and services.

Explicit knowledge can be saved and preserved in documents, databases, web pages, electronic mail and so on. This type of knowledge can be easily and instantly be presented or transferred to a recipient in an orderly manner.

Explicit knowledge consists of documents such as reports, memos, business plans, drawings, patents, trademarks, customer lists, methodologies, and so on. It is a compilation of the enterprise’s experience stored in a way that can be instantly acquired by people who need access. What needs to be noted is that this classification of knowledge cannot be taken as a rigid form of categorizing knowledge because they are both mutually complimentary. Tacit knowledge is a prerequisite for the evolvement of explicit knowledge.

It will be tough for somebody to comprehend explicit knowledge if they do not have tacit knowledge. And likewise, if tacit knowledge is not changed to explicit knowledge, it is impossible to learn, share and analyze this knowledge, which means there is precious information somewhere which cannot be of any benefit.

However, the endeavor to somewhat create a differentiation is beneficial for business because it can assist the self-recognition of the enterprise on the way towards knowledge management.

Knowledge level

‘Individual’ and ‘Collective’ are the two degrees by which knowledge is often studied and analyzed. However, in a business scenario, this then usually becomes three levels, namely ‘Individual’; ‘Organizational’ and ‘Social’.

Individual knowledge is generated through a constant process of experience accumulation that is based on a person’s education background; values and morals initially received from kin and later experiences, understanding and expertise acquired from the work place and from the living environment. Organizational knowledge is a combination of the individual knowledge of its staff members. But it is not as effortless as a mere addition of everyone’s individual knowledge. It is created through “unique patterns of interactions between technologies, techniques, and people, which cannot be easily imitated by other organizations”. Not just that but organizational knowledge is also created from other outside sources. Social knowledge is a bigger idea and consists of knowledge from the members of a society i.e. its individuals and organizations. For the scope of this thesis, the focus is placed on individual and organizational knowledge. Individual knowledge being the primary component of organizational knowledge.

Organizational knowledge is considered as a major business asset for an enterprise to achieve competitive advantage and is the reason why there has been growing interest in this arena. [insert reference] The concept of ‘Knowledge Management’ deals with the issue of managing knowledge in an enterprise so as to gain advantage and profitability.

Knowledge Management

The Definition of Knowledge Management

Though knowledge management was only named in the last decade of the 20th century, it has been around a very long time and has a long history. It is essential for the progression and growth of society. At the very beginning of the human society, there was only very basic productive activities around such as picking fruits and hunting animals, knowledge management was already existent in the sense that it was inherited from generation to generation.

In this study, Pillania’s (2004) description is employed and it explains knowledge management as “a systematic, organized, explicit and deliberate ongoing process of creating, disseminating, applying, renewing and updating the knowledge for achieving organizational objectives”.

Applying knowledge management on the ‘Organizational’ level has to do with governing knowledge in all the tasks with regards to business, be they indirect or direct; short term or long term business tasks. Governing knowledge involves a nonstop process of facilitating active interactions amongst inside and outside knowledge sources by handling enablers effectually. The generation of organizational knowledge from possible inside and outside knowledge sources is diagrammatically shown. This diagram also paints a summary of knowledge management. Inside knowledge is in fact the main and highly important source of organizational knowledge – this refers to the knowledge that emerges from everyday interactions amongst people who are employed by the enterprise.

Handling the current organizational knowledge that already exists aids the prospect of generating fresh knowledge by taking in knowledge from external sources, i.e. from the entities that the enterprise interacts with and deals with during its daily operations(trade associates, consumers, business opponents, etc). These functions are coil together and define the active element which knowledge management has to it.

The process of Knowledge Management

Knowledge creation; knowledge dissemination; and knowledge implementation make up the knowledge management elements at the ‘Organizational’ level. When studying the three elements in the viewpoint of processes, they may be sectioned into creation; storage/retrieval; sharing/transfer and application.

Generating Knowledge

Knowledge creation includes both generating fresh knowledge and enhancing the knowledge that is already available with the enterprise. In an enterprise, knowledge may be developed by a single person or a group of people working and cooperating together. The SECI model showcases four means of transforming knowledge betwixt two kinds of knowledge, and by this transformation action, knowledge advances and enhances in terms of quality and quantity. SECI is the acronym for Socialization, Externalization, Combination and Internalization. These terminologies are fairly simple to comprehend – socialization is from tacit knowledge to tacit knowledge, externalization is from tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge, combination is from explicit knowledge to explicit knowledge and lastly, internalization is from explicit knowledge to tacit knowledge. Researches have recognized certain actions which aid the respective kinds of transformations in the above model. For instance, starting with the socialization mode, social interaction seems like a highly beneficial action aiding to the transformation of already existing tacit knowledge into fresh tacit knowledge; whereas in combination mode, the transformation of already existing explicit knowledge to fresh explicit knowledge may be aided by actions like mixing, grouping and reorganizing.

Nonaka and Konno (2000) have proposed the necessity of creating a common space where individuals can interact and exchange ideas. This space, for all members of the enterprise, can be physical or virtual. With the growing development we see each day in technology, whereas it may be somewhat of an issue for an enterprise to set up and maintain a physical space, it should not be difficult to set up a virtual space. The problem here is how to effectively oversee and direct this kind of space to aid the generation of knowledge.

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