What is tacit knowledge?

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —December 8, 2005
Filed in Insight

Over the last 6 months I have attended a few knowledge management conferences to see if things have progressed and I’m dismayed at how many times I heard academics and practitioners still talking about capturing tacit knowledge. I thought we understood that nature of tacit knowledge is that it cannot be translated or converted in this way. Hmmm. Disappointing. Sadly this thinking is being taught at the universities and then is applied in organisations. All we end up with are more unsuccessful ‘knowledge repositories.’

The best description of this common misunderstanding is contained in this paper by Professor Haridimous Tsoukas. One of the must reads in the KM literature.


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:

2 Responses to “What is tacit knowledge?”

  1. Julian Carver Says:

    I like the distinction Dave Snowden’s making in terms of explicit knowledge, narrative knowledge, and experiential knowledge. Narrative knowledge can be captured to some extent, but experiential knowledge can’t (you can read a manual, or listen to a story about riding a bike, but that doesn’t mean you can do it).
    While a useful distinction, the above still seems problematic as there is, it seems to me, a complex interplay between experience and our narrative construction of it. I think it’s a better distinction than tacit-explicit though.

  2. Jenny Ambrozek Says:

    Thanks for this interesting discussion and the links. While not directly related I found this recent McKinsey piece describing the impact on organizations as tacit knowledge and complex interactions grow together interesting.

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