3 Types of Knowledge To Capture

Note: This blog article was originally written for TacitKey and has been published on the following link:

3 Types of Knowledge That Businesses Should Capture

A successful organization is dependent on its intellectual capital. It is the collective knowledge that the organization possesses. It is valued as an asset since this knowledge is uncommon and not easily accessible for the competitors.

Intellectual capital consists of the following:

  • Human capital – employees and their skills
  • Relationship capital –  the relationships between employees
  • Structural capital –  aggregated documentation about processes, customers, methods, routines, research, culture, resources, infrastructure, work environment, regulations and rules, and proprietary information like goods and services

Managing such a treasure trove of knowledge within the organization helps employees as they receive the right resources at the right time to do their jobs. Thus, effective knowledge management improves the overall performance and growth of the organization.

The intellectual capital is available in various forms and can be roughly distinguished into three major types of knowledge. They are explicit, implicit, and tacit. These are crucial for knowledge management in organizations.

Understanding these knowledge types in detail will help an individual design a knowledge management system that can capture them effectively and prevent loss of information.

Explicit Knowledge

Explicit knowledge is something we are aware of and is available to our immediate conscious. It  is easy to identify, store, retrieve, and transfer and commonly referred to as the knowledge what we know. This type of data is accessible as it is already processed and structured. White papers, manuals, reports, etc., are all codified explicit knowledge.

Explicit knowledge is something that the individual knows about and can communicate that information effectively. Dummett  in 1991 defined explicit knowledge accordingly:“Someone has explicit knowledge of something if a statement of it can be elicited from him by suitable enquiry or prompting.” Explicit knowledge is the kind you can gain by reading a book, watching a video or tutorial, or listening to a pod cast or narration.

We can record and transfer explicit knowledge one-way or the other. However, this not usually done for the other types of knowledge namely the implicit and tacit.For instance, mental health practitioners use manuals like DSM-5 to diagnose mental and behavioral illnesses in patients. Likewise, it is easy to tap explicit knowledge through knowledge management systems or software in an organization.

Implicit Knowledge

Implicit knowledge has to surface from our subconscious so it not as easily accessible as the explicit one, and is largely procedural than subjective. For instance, asking various employees on how to do a task would uncover different methods of doing the same task. Examples of implicit knowledge would include a company’s best practices or processes. Another would be mastering an instrument — difficult to explain — but can be transferred from one person to another procedurally.

Examples would include organizational culture, workflows, methods, reporting structure, etc., that dictate organization to run in a certain way. However, the management would have a rationale behind having such workflows and hierarchies, which is hard for an outsider to comprehend. Such information that is not readily available to capture is implicit knowledge.

One of the best examples would be an organizational culture that would hint at some gathered implicit knowledge that dictates the management to run the organization a certain way to achieve its goals.

Implicit knowledge is something that an individual cannot immediately recall. This knowledge is not written down or available for immediate access. It is knowledge that is understood and cannot be expressed directly. However, when a person is probed further to detail an event or a process, the knowledge can be observed or recorded.

Implicit knowledge involves information that can surface through free expression, conversations, dialog, observation, or reflection.

Implicit knowledge is usually abstract representations like mental models (postulated by Charles Sanders Peirce, 1896) and heuristics (a concept introduced by Herbert A. Simon). A mental model is how we perceive, interpret and represent a real or an imaginary world in our mind. Mental models are in the form of verbal descriptions, symbols, images, beliefs, principles etc. An example of a mental model would be for a manager to categorize incoming projects as high, medium, and low priority based on factors like revenue, deadlines, level of difficulty, time, and effort investments etc. A heuristic is any approach that employs a shortcut or a method to solve problems, learn, or discover something. Examples would be stereotyping, guessing, estimating, a checklist, or a rule of thumb.

For instance, a mental health professional may be treating a community of people who work at land mines. Over time, he may uncover patterns of alcoholism and drug abuse that is highly prevalent in people who work in the mines. He may also be able to predict that the people may take to drinking and chewing tobacco to alleviate the physical stress they undergo in the mines. Identifying such cause and effect relationships is implicit knowledge.

Tacit Knowledge

Tacit knowledge consists of the things we know how to do but cannot explain how to do it. It was originally defined by Michael Polanyi in 1967, as “we can know more than we can tell,” in the book The Tacit Dimension. This pre-logical phase of knowing was termed as ‘tacit knowledge’.

Hvorecký, Šimúth, and Lipovská (2015) defined tacit knowledge as “personal experience, perceptions, insights, aptitudes, and know-how that are implied or indicated but not actually expressed – they are hidden in the minds of their owners.”

It is contextual, personal, and intuitive. It is difficult to articulate or communicate as it consists of fine motor skills, feelings, intuitions etc. Years of experience of a professional helps him acquire knowledge that gives him good degree of discernment. An example of tacit knowledge would be a salesperson who can judge if a person would be a potential customer or not.

Another example would be an experienced psychologist who is able to use his clinical skills to spontaneously identify the signs and diagnose a patient’s illness. Additionally, he is able to gauge the type of interventions  he has to use on the patient taking various factors into account like the patient’s socio economic, religious, and professional background.

Since tacit knowledge is more difficult to uncover than implicit knowledge, video documentation is a good way to tap it. Experts in a particular field can mentor juniors, share their case studies and experiences. Through mentorship, novices can get guidance on proven techniques that would help tackle difficult situations and disastrous scenarios at work.

A study done in the upstream sector of Nigeria in 2015 revealed that the amount of tacit knowledge an organization possessed helped in predicting the firm’s future performance.

TacitKey, being a knowledge-sharing platform, facilitates and nurtures knowledge transfers among professional by providing strategies that big organizations usually employ. On TacitKey communities, individuals can have insightful discussions on various domains such as life sciences, legal, finance, and health care.

In essence,

Explicit knowledge can be coded, stored, retrieved, and transferred to others. Implicit knowledge is not readily available but can be decoded after probing one’s mind for explanation, reasoning, and reflection. Tacit knowledge is intuitive, personal, contextual and experiential that is the hardest to decode or transfer. However, it can be captured through video documentation, knowledge-sharing platforms, case studies, on-the-job training, socialization etc. When captured, it brings out the maximum worth of an organization.

Published by Quill Ink

I am Deepa Sai, the founder of Quill Ink. I am a content writer, copywriter and a strategist. I write about content, marketing, management, strategy, Psychology, Social Work, lifestyle, books, and music. I provide content marketing, writing and editing services for professionals, small businesses and startups.

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