Tacit Knowledge in
Organizations
Anne Heinrichs, Saskia Bercht & Silvia Grimmsmann
June 24th 2003
Communication in Organizations
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Agenda
A. Tacit Knowledge: An Introduction
I. What is Tacit Knowledge?
II. Types of Knowledge
III. History of Tacit Knowledge
A) Francis Bacon – Novum Organum
B) Michael Polanyi – The Tacit Dimension
IV. Making Tacit Knowledge Explicit
A) Knowledge Management
B) Nonaka; Takeuchi – The Knowledge Creating Company
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I. What is Tacit Knowledge?
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I. What is Tacit Knowledge?
 Have you ever noticed how easily you speak your mother tongue?
 Have you ever noticed how easily you recognize faces?
 Why is that so?
 Because of your tacit knowledge!
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I. What is Tacit Knowledge?
What does "tacit" mean?
 According to the Oxford Advanced Learner`s Dictionary:
tacit – understood without words; implied
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I. What is Tacit Knowledge?
What is knowledge?
 According to Webster`s Dictionary:
The fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity
gained
through experience or association. […] K. may be
recorded in an
individual brain or stored in organizational
processes, products, facilities, systems and documents.
 But there is more to it…
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II. Types of Knowledge
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II. Types of Knowledge
Tacit Knowledge
 "Automatic" knowledge
 "Subconscious knowledge" of an individual
 e.g. intuitions, unarticulated mental models, embodied technical
skills
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II. Types of Knowledge
Explicit Knowledge
 K. that is encoded or even recorded in documents or information
systems or embodied in values, methods and procedures
 Meaningful set of information articulated in clear language
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III. History of Tacit Knowledge
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III. History of Tacit Knowledge
A) Francis Bacon : Novum Organum
Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
 English lawyer, statesman, essayist, historian, intellectual reformer,
philosopher and champion of modern science
 1620 Novum Organum
– new method to replace that of Aristotle
 1623 De Augmentis Scientiarum
– "For why should a few received authors stand up like Hercules
columns, beyond which there should be no sailing or
discovering…"
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III. History of Tacit Knowledge
A) Francis Bacon : Novum Organum
Francis Bacon (1561-1626): "Knowledge is Power"
 "a light that would eventually disclose and bring into sight all that
is most hidden and secret in the universe"
– method involved the collection of data, their
judicious interpretation, the carrying out of experiments
 laid ground for modern science and the triumph of
technology
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III. History of Tacit Knowledge
B) Michael Polanyi
Michael Polanyi (1891-1976)
 Hungarian scientist turned philosopher
 Father of Tacit Knowledge
 1966 The Tacit Dimension
 Account of what tacit knowledge actually means
– Main thesis: "we can know more than we can tell"
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III. History of Tacit Knowledge
B) Michael Polanyi
1) Characteristics of Tacit Knowledge
 There are actions and judgments, which we spontaneously know
how to carry out without having to think prior to or during their
performance.
 We often find ourselves doing these things without being aware of
having learned them.
 The knowledge revealed by our actions can usually not be
described, and we may never have been really aware of it.
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III. History of Tacit Knowledge
B) Michael Polanyi
2) Properties of Tacit Knowledge
1. The proximal term
- part that is closer to us
2. The distal term
- part that is further away
Tacit knowledge is the understanding of the unity of this
proximal/distal pair.
(Polanyi 1966: 10)
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III. History of Tacit Knowledge
B) Michael Polanyi
3) Tacit Knowledge in Action
In an act of tacit knowing we attend from the proximal term to
the distal term.

(Polanyi 1966: 11)
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III. History of Tacit Knowledge
B) Michael Polanyi
3) Tacit Knowledge in Action
 Playing a complicated musical piece by heart, a musician
concentrates on the melody without concentrating on where to
put his hands.
 He attends from the melody in his head to where to put his
hands.
 Stock market
 A stock broker attends from ? to when to buy or sell shares.
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IV. Making Tacit Knowledge Explicit
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IV. Making Tacit Knowledge Explicit
A) Knowledge Management or
"If we only knew what we know"






Creating
Securing
Capturing
Coordinating
Combining
Retrieving
 Distributing
Knowledge
Idea: "Sharing knowledge is power"
vs.
"Knowledge is power"
(Liebowitz 2000: 1)
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IV. Making Tacit Knowledge Explicit
B) Nonaka; Takeuchi (1995)
The Knowledge Creating Company
Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1995: 62)
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IV. Making Tacit Knowledge Explicit
B) Nonaka; Takeuchi (1995)
The Knowledge Creating Company
Socialization
 Process of transforming individual tacit knowledge into group tacit
knowledge through shared experiences
Technical Dimension
 traditional
apprenticeship
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Cognitive Dimension
 informal meetings outside
of the workplace
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IV. Making Tacit Knowledge Explicit
B) Nonaka; Takeuchi (1995)
The Knowledge Creating Company
Externalization/Articulation
Process of articulating tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge
through the use metaphors, analogies, concepts, hypotheses or
models
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IV. Making Tacit Knowledge Explicit
B) Nonaka; Takeuchi (1995)
The Knowledge Creating Company
Combination
 Process of assembling new and existing explicit knowledge into
systemic explicit knowledge in order to create a new archetype
 e.g. A new business procedure is introduced along with the
prototype for a new product and justification has to be
promoted throughout the company.
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IV. Making Tacit Knowledge Explicit
B) Nonaka; Takeuchi (1995)
The Knowledge Creating Company
Internalization
 Process of converting explicit knowledge into tacit operational
knowledge such as know-how
 e.g. Engineering case studies help novice engineers to internalize
the explicit knowledge that has been externalized from veteranbased tacit knowledge.
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Summary
 Bacon: new learning method, that lay ground for modern science
 Polanyi: father of tacit knowledge
 Nonaka: The Knowledge Creating Company
- How can tacit knowledge be made explicit?
- Socialization, Externalization, Combination, Internalization
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Agenda
B. Tacit Knowledge in Different Cultures
I.
Matsushita Electric Industrial Co.: home bakery
II. Contrasting Eastern and Western cultures
III. The Q of sapphire
IV. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
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Agenda
I. Matsushita Electric Industrial Co.
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I. Matsushita Electric Industrial Co.
Home Bakery
 Matsushita Electric Industrial Co.:
bread-baking machine for home use
 Possible with help of the tacit
knowledge of a master baker
 Great international success
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00004S56Y/102-4111837-3408169
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I. Matsushita Electric Industrial Co.
Conclusion
1. Socialization: learn tacit knowledge from baker
2. Articulation: tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge
3. Combination: Tanaka and team
4. Internalization: team knowledge bases enriched
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Agenda
III. Contrasting Eastern and Western Cultures
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III. Contrasting Eastern and Western Cultures
Key points about Japanese management
 Mentorship and network creation
 Life-time employment
 Seniority-based promotion
 Consensus decision-making (collectivism)
 Asiatic, but westernised (in a Japanese way!)
 Education: patriotic duty and learning by repetition
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III. Contrasting Eastern and Western Cultures
Ba
 Ba: roughly means "place" or "interaction field"
 Industrial history of Japan
 Concept of ba
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III. Contrasting Eastern and Western Cultures
West
1. Explicit knowledge
2. Measuring & managing existing knowledge
3. Few people carry out knowledge management initiatives
4. Organization: machine for information processing
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III. Contrasting Eastern and Western Cultures
Japan
1. Tacit knowledge
2. Knowledge involves emotions, values, and hunches
3. Companies "manage" & "create" knowledge
4. Everyone involved in creating organizational knowledge
(middle managers = key knowledge engineers)
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III. Contrasting Eastern and Western Cultures
History
Japan
West
 Cartesian Split:
separation of the body
and mind (Descartes)
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 "iemoto": school run
by masters of a craft
 Zen Buddhism:
"the oneness of body
and mind"
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III. Contrasting Eastern and Western Cultures
USA
 Future-oriented
 Adventure
 Unlimited progress




Pragmatism
Individualism
Short-term planning
Community not so important
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III. Contrasting Eastern and Western Cultures
Europe
 Individualism, priority on the human being
 Intern negotiations
 International diversity
 Management between extremes
 Strong product-orientation
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III. Contrasting Eastern and Western cultures
Zen and the Art of Innovation
 Innovation management techniques
 Are there any lessons the West can learn from Japan?
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Agenda
IV. The Q of sapphire
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IV. The Q of sapphire

Sapphire used for laser-building

Russian measurements better than Scottish ones

Problems: lack of tacit knowledge and trust
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Agenda
V. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
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V. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
 USA / China: different
responses to the film
 Tacit expectation shapes
the audiences‘ attitudes
http://www.owlnet.rice.edu/~kileen/chin311/CrouchingSummEng.html
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V. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Taoism
 TK as an important element
in Taoism
 Influence of Taoist TK on
Chinese culture, mentality
www.dance-centre.com/ workshops.htm
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Summary
The Culture Compass
Rational
Practical
Holistic
Humanistic
Kalthoff, Otto; Nonaka, Ikujiro; Nueno, Pedro (1999)
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Agenda
C. Making it Happen: Tacit Knowledge in Organizations
I.
Why is Tacit Knowledge Important Today?
II. Mobilizing Knowledge in Organizations
a) General Concepts
b) Enabling Knowledge
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Agenda
I. Why is Tacit Knowledge Important Today?
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I. Why is Tacit Knowledge Important Today?
A) General Concepts
Fragmentation
Company
Department A
Department B
Department C
Adapted from Kalthoff and Nonaka (1999)
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I. Why is Tacit Knowledge Important Today?
A) General Concepts
Information Technology versus a New Sense of Emotional
Knowledge
Emphasis on: -How people treat each other
-Facilitate relationships
Emphasis taken away from: "Cutthroat attitude"
Von Krogh, Ichijo, Nonaka (2000)
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I. Why is Tacit Knowledge Important Today?
a) General Concepts
Different Concepts of Knowledge: West and East
 The Western philosophy
 Knowledge is context specific
 Plato
 It is dynamically created
 Knowledge is unchanging
 It has a subjective nature
Von Krogh, Ichijo, Nonaka 2000
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Agenda
II. Mobilizing Knowledge in Organizations
A) General Concepts
B) Enabling Knowledge
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II. Mobilizing Knowledge in Organizations
A) General Ideas
B) Enabling Knowledge
"Knowledge cannot be managed, only enabled."
 Management implies something can be controlled.
Von Krogh, Ichijo, Nonaka 2000
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What do you think?
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II. Enabling Knowledge in Organizations
A) General Concepts
Tacit Knowledge is Dynamic
 A constant state of becoming
 Groups create knowledge until they are disbanded
 Articulation and Documentation
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II. Mobilizing Tacit Knowledge in Organizations
B) Enabling Knowledge
A Company`s Atmosphere
 Opportunities for interactions
 A Caring Management
 Dismantling Barriers
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II. Mobilizing Tacit Knowledge in Organizations
B) Enabling Knowledge
The Knowledge Enablers
 Manage Conversations
 Mobilize Knowledge Activists
Von Krogh, Ichijo, Nonaka 2000
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II. Mobilizing Tacit Knowledge in Organizations
B) Enabling Knowledge
Manage Conversations
 "Good conversations are the cradle of social knowledge in
any organization."
 Four guiding principles for good conversation
Von Krogh, Ichijo, Nonaka 2000
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II. Mobilizing Tacit Knowledge in Organizations
B) Enabling Knowledge
Mobilizing Knowledge Activists
 Emerge in situations of conflict
 Reduce time and cost for solution finding
 "Spread the word"
Von Krogh, Ichijo, Nonaka 2000
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We are the best knowledge activists a company could ask for!
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