Types of Tacit Knowledge

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —November 26, 2004
Filed in Insight

There has been some discussion during November in ActKM about whether tacit knowledge can be captured. Opinion ranged from ‘definitely yes’ to ‘absolutely no’. This discussion reminded me of the distinctions made by Max Boisot between three types of tacit knowledge:

  • Things that are not said because everyone understands them and takes them for granted.
  • Things that are not said because nobody fully understands them.
  • Things that are not said because, although some people understand them, they cannot costlessly articulate them.

I think it is possible to adopt individual strategies to manage each type of tacit knowledge.
Narrative, for example, is useful for discovering the things that are taken for granted–but you won’t find them all.
Techniques for developing intuition can be employed to enhance the things that nobody fully understands–but you won’t know everything.
Organisations might decide that certain critical (but complicated) knowledge should be more generally known–but some will be just too costly to convert.

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:

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