What is Tacit Knowledge in Knowledge Management?

Juliet Luciol
November 22, 2022
min read
September 24, 2023
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Tacit knowledge is the total of all the things you know about how to do something. Learn more about how tacit knowledge can help you and your team do your job better and more effectively.
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Tacit knowledge is the invisible, unspoken knowledge that we all have. It's the knowledge embedded in our everyday experiences and interactions. In most cases, it’s the stuff we learn from doing something or observing others.

Tacit knowledge is often difficult to articulate, which is why it's so important to capture it in a format we can use. That's where knowledge management comes in. By capturing tacit knowledge and putting it into a system, we can unlock its power and use it to our advantage.

However, knowledge management is not just about document creation. Effective knowledge management is, in many ways, about having the right resources for your team and ensuring everyone is motivated to do their best work.

You can always count on Scribe and Scribe Pages to create engaging knowledge-base documents and help articles. The available versatile features will allow us to tackle common knowledge base issues.

What are the real benefits of tacit knowledge?

What is the big deal with tacit knowledge? After all, it's just knowledge that's not spoken or written down. So why is it so important?

Here are the key benefits of leveraging tacit knowledge.

1. Tacit knowledge improves the quality of decisions & strategies

Tacit knowledge is often the most valuable, difficult to learn and teach, hardest to explain, and hardest to transfer. Tacit knowledge tends to be implicit—that is, it is not taught explicitly by anyone. Instead, you acquire it through experience & practice.

Here are some examples of ROI that businesses can achieve by using tacit knowledge:

You know how your customers think better than any focus group could ever tell you — because you're one of them! 

With this insight into your customer's needs and wants, you can create better products/services at lower costs than ever.

This is easier considering there's less guesswork involved in product development & design processes, meaning fewer mistakes along the way.

2. Tacit knowledge increases productivity

Tacit knowledge is the kind of information that can only be passed on by word of mouth. It's not written down, and it's often embedded in the minds of those who know it. But this isn't always a bad thing! Tacit knowledge is a key ingredient for innovation.

When you come up with an idea or solve a problem, this type of knowledge helps guide you along the way. Knowing how to do something tacitly makes your solution easier than if you didn't have this background knowledge of things like making new products or finding ways to solve problems more efficiently.

Types of tacit knowledge

Tacit knowledge is the sum of all of your experiences. It's what you know that you don't know you know, and it can be hard to explain in words or even pictures. 

Tacit knowledge is also based on stories and anecdotes from people who have been through similar situations before.

People can share their tacit knowledge by telling stories about overcoming obstacles while learning new skills or situations. This makes it more relatable and memorable than written text alone could ever achieve

You can acquire tacit knowledge through experience and practice — the more you use certain skills or abilities in your workday, the more likely these skills will become ingrained in your brain as tacit responses.

Tacit knowledge vs. explicit knowledge

Explicit knowledge is something you can articulate and communicate with others in a variety of ways:

  • You know how to do something because someone has taught you.
  • You read about another person's experience to gain insight into how they got there.

Tacit knowledge differs from explicit knowledge because you can’t expressly articulate it. The knowledge requires an individual's experience directly interacting with the subject matter at hand. This process may require years of trial and error before finding success.

Tacit knowledge can be far more powerful than explicit knowledge when solving problems because it is based on experience and intuition. So, if you want to unleash the power of your team, you need to start tapping into that tacit knowledge.

Effective knowledge management

Tacit knowledge may be difficult to convey in a written or verbal format, but that doesn't mean it's not valuable. It’s often the most valuable knowledge an organization can ever have.

Developing this knowledge is about finding the right techniques to promote effective knowledge management. 

For instance, it's important to be open to new ways of doing things. This includes leveraging the right technology, such as process documentation automation. 


However, effective knowledge management goes beyond creating documents and putting them in a static database. 

It requires a thorough framework that allows you to create effective knowledge-based documents and foster a culture of proactive and motivated employees.

Why it’s important to build a culture of learning & ongoing knowledge

Organizations that foster a culture of learning and ongoing knowledge are better able to compete in today's economy. Their employees who are constantly learning and growing are more engaged and productive. They are also more likely to stick around, which reduces turnover costs.

A culture of learning also attracts top talent. Prospective employees want to work for an organization that is committed to helping its people grow. When you invest in your employees' development, you show that you value them and their contributions.

Ongoing learning also leads to innovations that can give your organization a competitive edge. Your employees will likely develop new ideas if encouraged to think creatively and experiment.

So, how can you create a culture of learning in your organization? Start by making sure that your leaders model lifelong learning. Encourage them to share their own experiences of continued learning, and make it clear that it is something that you value as an organization.

Make training and development opportunities available to all employees, not just those at the top. 

Finally, creating an environment where failure is tolerated and encouraged is important. Organizations must create a space where employees feel safe trying new things and making mistakes. This environment fosters creativity and innovation, which are essential for any organization that wants to thrive and stay ahead of the competition.

By fostering a culture of learning and ongoing knowledge, organizations can tap into the vast potential of their employees and reap many benefits.

Key practices to encourage your team’s tacit knowledge

Tacit knowledge is personal and takes work to develop. However, following these simple tips, you can embark on a path to encourage your tacit knowledge and your team.

1. Observation

Observation is the first step in learning and one of the most important. You can observe your surroundings, other people's reactions to technology and the environment, or even yourself when interacting with technology or your environment.

For example, observe if people are paying attention to each other while using a particular product (e.g., an app). If so, what kind of communication patterns do they use? Do they talk across devices?

Are there different types of communication between two people who work together regularly—and if so, how does this affect how they interact daily? This will help you develop effective tacit understanding and new ideas and innovations.

2. Learn by doing

If you are going to learn something new, you mustn't just read about it. You need to experience the situation and try out different approaches. To build tacit knowledge, we recommend learning by doing rather than just reading about it in a book.

For instance, people often say: "I learned this by reading an article." But how did they learn? Did they do any work? If so, what kind of work was it, and how much time did it take? Learning does not happen because someone tells us something. Instead, you must apply yourself in some way if you want your brain to absorb information and make sense of new concepts.

3. Look for patterns

When you look for patterns, you’re not just looking for data points. You are also looking for other things that might be happening in your company or organization. 

For example, some companies have a pattern of hiring people who did something similar to what they were trying to do before. This may not necessarily be exactly like the current project.

They would hire someone who had done something similar with another team in another department several years ago and then bring them on board as part of the new project team. 

This helps because there’s already some knowledge base on how these teams work together.

The existing knowledge base makes it easier to support each other in getting started rather than having no clue how things work together. 

As a new employee, supporting colleagues in the workplace is crucial to being a great team player. Learn how Scribe helps you support your colleagues without compromising your solo work time.

4. Be curious

Developing tacit knowledge also requires you to be curious about your company's culture and its evolution. 

Whether you’re an employee or a director, you want to read broadly in areas that interest you and impact what you do — the more diverse your reading list, the better your chances of gaining tacit information.

Remember that you don’t have to be an expert in every field. Instead, think of yourself as someone seeking information from multiple perspectives. 

Similarly, don’t be afraid to share this new information with colleagues.

Most companies keen on leveraging the benefits of tacit understanding among their employees always aim at fostering knowledge sharing. They ensure that everyone gets the chance to learn and share what they know.

5. Seek out new people & ideas

You can also encourage your teams' tacit knowledge by seeking out new people and ideas. 

This is especially important for those new to a field, as it helps them get past the initial hump of learning what they don't know.

Here is how to get started.

  • Find people who are doing things differently from you. If something doesn't seem quite right, it may be because what everyone else knows about the topic isn't enough for their needs, which means no room for improvement.
  • Seek out experts in different fields. We often think we're experts at something (especially if we've spent years studying), but this might not be true unless we're working on something related to our expertise.

6. Cultivate the culture of asking questions

Like we said, be curious. This can be hard, especially if you're not used to asking questions. But it's important because the more curious you are about other things and people, the more likely you will develop new tacit knowledge about them when asked (and vice versa).

Ask questions about things that aren't related to your job description or responsibilities at work. These conversations present opportunities for both parties' tacit knowledge growth — especially because there's no right answer.

The goal here isn't necessarily "to learn" but rather "to explore" and grow personally together through shared experiences. It can be one of the great ways to discover your strengths and those of your teams.

7.   Have the right tools & work environment

You can encourage your team's tacit knowledge by giving them the space and time to think. 

This means providing them with an environment where they feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas.

For dispersed teams in a virtual office setting, exchanging information is more difficult. 

This also means they miss out on tacit knowledge they would otherwise pick up through proximity to their co-workers.

As a director, you must be more intentional about facilitating easy knowledge sharing about such teams.

You need to execute effective knowledge sharing by giving them the right tools and incentives to share their expertise and boost the company's collective knowledge.

Some of the key knowledge-sharing systems you can leverage for remote teams include:

  •  Instant messaging platforms for easy communication through text, either in real-time or synchronously.
  • A knowledge management system. This should include a digital repository where remote employees can acquire explicit knowledge about the company and how work gets done. 

You should also build and organize standard operating procedures (SOPs) that align with the latest knowledge management trends.

How to overcome barriers to building tacit knowledge

There are a few common barriers and challenges to building tacit knowledge, but you can overcome them with a little effort.

1. Fear

People often hesitate to share their knowledge because they fear someone will steal their ideas. Or they're afraid no one will take them seriously if they don't have all the answers. You can help your team conquer fear by providing training and development opportunities that will allow them to build on their existing knowledge.

2. Ego

People can be very protective of their knowledge, and they don't want to share it with just anyone. They want to be the only one who knows how to do it, and they don't want anyone else messing with their process.

Promoting a culture of learning within your organization that values and encourages sharing knowledge will help overcome this challenge.

3. Ignorance

People don't always understand the value of knowledge or underestimate the importance of sharing information. They think knowledge should remain a secret when it's much more powerful when shared.

You can help your team conquer the ignorance barrier by creating opportunities for them to share their skills and expertise.

These are just a few barriers that can get in the way of building tacit knowledge. But with a little effort, you can overcome them and start sharing your knowledge with your team.

Final thoughts on tacit knowledge

Though the concept of tacit knowledge is fairly new, there's no doubt that it will help you as an employee or company director. 

You can better understand your colleagues or employees and their needs by tapping into this knowledge. You may even learn something new that could benefit your company long-term!

The key is to allow yourself to observe, think about how things are done and ask questions when you need more information on a specific topic. 

This can also be an opportunity for self-reflection and team reflection — you may discover something new about yourself through these practices!

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