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The Synergy Between Explicit and Tacit Knowledge

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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Good socialization allows people to draw on their experiences (tacit) and to come up with new and novel solutions to problems that can be introduced for the benefit of the organization (explicit).


The posting below looks at the differences between explicit and tacit knowledge and how we transfer information from one to the other, particularly in teams. It is taken from Chapter 1, What is knowledge management?, in Knowledge Management in Education: Enhancing Learning & Education by Edward Sallis and Gary Jones. Published by Kogan Page Limited 120 Pentonville Road, London N1 9JN, UK and Stylus Publishing Inc. 22883 Quicksilver Drive Sterling, VA 20166-2012, USA. Copyright?Edward Sallis and Gary Jones, 2002. The right of Edward Sallis and Gary Jones to be identified as the authors of this work has been asserted by them in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis

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Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning


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Edward Sallis and Gary Jones pp. 20-22


Nonaka and Takeuchi argue that organizations are interested in knowledge management because, as well as being smarter in their use of embedded knowledge, they need to engage in knowledge creation. After all, it is new knowledge that takes the organization forward. They need to recognize that knowledge creation is dynamic, involving a spiral process of interaction between tacit and explicit knowledge. Linking them, and building on their synergy, is essential. The process of linking tacit and explicit knowledge is known as the knowledge conversion process. The knowledge conversion process has four elements, as described by Nonaka and Takeuchi.

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The Knowledge Conversion Process Tacit to tacit-the sharing of ideas that results from socialization Tacit to explicit-the emergence of new ideas from metaphor and analogy Explicit to explicit-combining knowledge to test ideas Explicit to tacit-developing new ideas and learning by doing

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Tacit to tacit

The first element is the sharing of ideas, which is a tacit to tacit interaction. This is classically what happens in the dynamics of well-functioning teams or between colleagues who have ideas in common. People talk about what is important to them. They feed off the ideas of others, and the collective experience of sharing knowledge is a powerful means of creating new ideas. Essentially, this is a learning process, and social learning is a major means of facilitating tacit to tacit knowledge conversion.

Tacit to explicit

The second means of knowledge conversion, turning tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge, is a different process. In the tacit to explicit process, ideas are turned into practical reality. Metaphors and analogies have a prominent part to play in this process. In a team situation, metaphor helps team members externalize their tacit knowledge. It helps others to understand it in a way that makes it possible to use in a corporate setting.

In his book Beyond World Class, Clive Morton gives a graphic example of how the tacit to explicit conversion takes place. He describes Barnes Wallis and his team working on the dam-busting bombs that would destroy Germany's hydro-electric capability in the Second World War. They came up with the idea for the bouncing bomb by conceptualizing how children skim pebbles across the surface of the water.

Explicit to explicit

Once knowledge is explicit it is easier to make the explicit to explicit transfer that is Nonaka and Takeuchi's third means of transferring knowledge. This combining process allows ideas to be shared, and to be tested. The knowledge is in forms that can easily be transferred, via a range of means, including plans, charts, research and development and technical papers. It can be achieved globally through the communications media or by learning in formal settings using lectures, workshops, published papers, conferences, and seminars.

Explicit to tacit

The fourth and last means of knowledge conversion-the explicit to tacit conversion process-is more difficult. It is about the internalization of knowledge. It can help teams form mental images of the problems that need solving. This allows participants to bring their intuition and experience to bear on the issues. It is through the explicit to tacit conversion process that employees can act upon good ideas.

Internalization is very important in building understanding and developing a learning culture. Nonaka believes that the key to innovation is the social interaction that comes from socialization. Good socialization allows people to draw on their experiences (tacit) and to come up with new and novel solutions to problems that can be introduced for the benefit of the organization (explicit). The actual techniques of internalization are probably less significant than the bringing together of teams in both structured and semi-structured ways to allow them to honestly share and develop ideas and thinking. Many traditional and well-tried team-building approaches such as brainstorming lateral thinking and action learning can be effective in this knowledge conversion process. In the chapter on learning organizations, we discuss in more detail some of the means that can be employed to develop organizational learning.

Strategies for knowledge creation

In Enabling Knowledge Creation, Nonaka, Von Krogh and Ichijo argue that the fragility of knowledge creation means that it needs to be supported by a range of strategies. For each of the sequences in the knowledge-creating process, a range of enablers are employed. The knowledge process moving from sharing tacit knowledge to cross-levelling knowledge (essentially, developing a new idea or product). It is important to follow a framework that involves instilling a vision, and moves from managing conversations through to mobilizing activists, and creating the right context for knowledge creation to take place. Lastly, it is important to globalize local knowledge and ensure that it is shared widely throughout the organization.