We know more than we can tell
One of the essential managerial terms that are gaining a wide popularity in management training field is Tacit Knowledge Sharing. While the term is already popular in the management field, it would only be appropriate to start our topic with a brief explanation for the sake of formatting it properly.
What is Tacit Knowledge?
Tacit knowledge is a form of knowledge that does not have a specific or standard written/verbal format in which it can be transferred to an individual. For example, you can tell that adding 250 ml of water to a bowl of wheat flour will be enough to knead it into the dough. This is the explicit knowledge. However you cannot “explain” in standard words about the force to be applied, movement of wrist and fingers and the exact amount of time needed to knead the dough.
That is the tacit part of knowledge and it is best left to the individual to learn by themselves in general cases (mostly through hit and try approach). For specific knowledge like learning people management skills to some specific coach, mentor or trainer is required to impart the knowledge.
Some tacit knowledge examples
There is no book or any form of explicit structured knowledge that can teach a person how to ride a bicycle hit a ball to score maximum sixes, play the piano or acquire communication skills. Such information can only be gained via tacit knowledge approach.
It was Michael Polanyi who first coined the word tacit knowledge in the year 1958. Interestingly he was taciturn while explaining this knowledge “We know more than we can tell” is the statement he used for explaining tacit knowledge. When we talk about the Tacit Knowledge sharing there are several advantages and disadvantages of the same. We will start with the advantages and then explore the limitations of tacit knowledge that can also be counted as disadvantages.
Advantages of tacit knowledge sharing
An individual can understand and retain maximum amount of information
A workplace is regarded as one of the best places where one can learn many new things that not only help him in his honing the core professional skills but also allow him to develop the interpersonal skills. It is the complex relationship between interpersonal and professional skills that ultimately helps a person to prove him to be an important asset for the organization.
According to a study, it is believed that 2/3rds of the information are received via tacit knowledge sharing during informal conversations, mentoring talks, story sharing and internships.
It is not just a theoretical establishment but is also proven by the real-life success of huge corporations that advocate and promote open doors policy. The open and democratic work environment offers the best opportunity to exchange the ideas in the personal manner or tacit knowledge sharing that in turn offers cutting-edge skills to the employees of such organizations.
It is not possible for every employee to remember the entire knowledge shared at the workplace and how much of the shared knowledge is ultimately understood and retained plays a vital role in establishing the individual’s worth. And the information is best understood and retained with the help of tacit knowledge sharing skills!
Extracting real-life benefits
The individual acquires a decent part of the tacit knowledge via his or her own experiences that equip him/her with the required skills to extract real-life benefits out of the same or use the knowledge in the desired manner to solve the real-life situations.
For example, a guide to cricket rules can help a person to know what a six is and how to decide when you really need one. That is an explicit knowledge. However, it cannot teach a person to apply the right kind of force and move the bat in just the right direction before hitting it- in order to hit a six! It is a tacit knowledge that cannot be transferred explicitly.
Understandably, it is this (and similar instances of) tacit intelligence that prepares the successful batsmen that can play a game-changing role in any match.
Hence there is the need for the coach with the best tacit knowledge sharing skills that prepares a batsman with the help of repeated practices, correcting their postures and movements and also preparing them via many instances of net practices.
So, we see that while explicit knowledge can offer the introductory part of any knowledge, ultimately it is the tacit knowledge sharing that makes a person fit to apply that knowledge in the desired manner during real-life experiences.
Manipulating the knowledge to get best benefits
Another major advantage of tacit knowledge sharing is that it allows a person to understand the different aspects of the knowledge and use it flexible to gain the desired results.
For example, in order to hit maximum sixes, the person cannot always use the same force or movements.
The movement and force depend upon the speed of the ball, pitch conditions, the way the ball is thrown (spinning etc.). Here we see that the batsman is able to “manipulate the knowledge” in multiple ways to ascertain the best benefit irrespective of the varying conditions. This quality can only be gained via tacit knowledge sharing.
One of the major advantages of tacit knowledge is that due to its informal structure it is an openly ended knowledge that allows and encourages a person to continue the process of learning and developing. There isn’t a boundary that defines the limits of tacit knowledge and that is the real beauty of this knowledge. That is why we can see that in many cases the influential managers, mentors, businessperson, artists, and sportsmen keep on developing ahead even years after they formally learned a skill or studied their field. The reason is the open-ended structure offered by the tacit knowledge that allows them to continue learning and development.
Here again, we can use the example of the batsman stated in the above example, the successful street batsman is turned into a prating state batsman and then shines as a national batsman with a great success. However, there is a curve involved in this whole process and it is the open-ended structure of tacit knowledge that allows a batsman to acquire succession different levels by continuously fine-tuning his skills.
Disadvantages of tacit Knowledge sharing
Apart from several advantages there are some disadvantages of tacit knowledge sharing too. Here are a few of them:
No uniform established form of formal transferring
One of the major disadvantages of tacit knowledge sharing is that there is no established method or manner in which one can note down this knowledge or transfer it from one entity to the other in its real original form and impact. Hence in terms of a workplace, the tacit knowledge cannot be handed over by the successful employee when he leaves or retires. So the tacit knowledge (in its original form) is gone with the employee when e leaves a company.
Ironically it is this tacit knowledge sharing that produces a huge number of other successful employees but due to its inexplicit form, there is no way this key asset can be retained by a company in a definite manner. That is why many corporate houses or successful businesses fail when the influential Coos or key personnel retire or leave the company.
Interferes with healthy competition
The competition is a part and parcel of the corporate sector that pushes a business to do better than their competitors. So, many of the aspects of competitors’ business are deeply studied and the effective measured steps are taken to ensure better performance on those fronts. However, due to the nature of the tacit knowledge another company cannot replicate or outpace the advantages gained by their competitors that act as a boundary for the healthy competition.
Besides it is one of the major reasons that might also compel some businesses to lean towards unethical ways to gain a cutting edge over tear competitors by trying to “snatch” the tacit knowledge (or key personnel’s) of their competitors using the greed factor that can be presented in terms of higher packages, better career growth or more powers with an improved title.
Thus it has twin advantages of limiting a businesses’ ability to measure and compete with other players of the field and secondly compelling them to practice the unethical measures to gain an advantage over the competitor.
Can be used to mislead by clever individuals
Another major disadvantage of the tacit knowledge is tam, unlike explicit knowledge it cannot be “measured” using the specific yardsticks. Hence, in many cases, it is possible that the professional claiming to specialize in a certain form of the tacit knowledge may not have that expertise. Such professionals might “gloss over their shortcomings with the help of clever tricks.
We can see that while there are a number of the excellent mentor who can produce otherworld class results with their lectures and training sessions, there are many others who claim to be mentors but lack the key skills. However due to the clever “cosmetic makeup” of associated skills like communication skills, body language and personal traits they “appear” genuine. Likewise, there are many artists who really don’t have the best talent or skills but it is due to their deceiving yet impressive presentation skills that they gain a public support and earn a handsome amount.
This article was first published in the print issue of A-Desiflava Magazine Jul-Aug 2018.