Tacit Knowledge

Topics: Knowledge management, Knowledge, Tacit knowledge Pages: 11 (7127 words) Published: May 7, 2014

The role of tacit and
explicit knowledge in
the workplace
Elizabeth A. Smith

The author
Elizabeth A. Smith is Vice President of Summit
Resources, Inc., Houston, Texas, USA, and Adjunct
Professor in Administrative Sciences, School of Business
and Public Administration at the University of Houston
Clear Lake.
Knowledge workers, Information resources management,
Knowledge plays a key role in the information revolution.
Major challenges are to select the ``right’’ information from numerous sources and transform it into useful
knowledge. Tacit knowledge based on common sense,
and explicit knowledge based on academic
accomplishment are both underutilized. Ways knowledgeenabled organizations acquire, measure, teach, share and apply knowledge are discussed and illustrated. Methods
to balance the use tacit and explicit knowledge at work
and practical, proven ways to improve the understanding
and use of knowledge are presented. Organizations must
begin to create worker-centered environments to
encourage the open sharing and use of all forms of
Electronic access
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is
available at

Journal of Knowledge Management
Volume 5 . Number 4 . 2001 . pp. 311±321
# MCB University Press . ISSN 1367-3270

People have always passed their accumulated
knowledge and commercial wisdom on to
future generations by telling stories about
their thoughts, work and experiences. Now,
as in the past, people use face-to-face and
’’ hands-on’’ methods to convey their ’’ know
how’’ or tacit knowledge to others (Hansen
et al., 1999). Throughout recorded history,
some form of written language has been used
to document their ’’ know-what’’ or explicit
knowledge. Pursuits of tacit, explicit and selfknowledge, self-renewal and innovation are timeless, endless and relentless.
Historically, capital, raw materials and
labor have been considered more valuable
than creating and applying knowledge. The
information age and the knowledge revolution
have caused problems for people and
organizations. Demands for imaginative,
intuitive, inspirational leaders who can
manage human intellect and convert it into
useful products and service continue to grow
(Goffee and Jones, 2000). People must do
more work in less time. Workers who lack
adequate education and training, or explicit
knowledge, struggle to keep up. They rely on
their common sense and intuition, or tacit
knowledge, to get through the day. Many
companies are using tacit knowledge to
augment a person’s academic learning and
experience. Wagner and Sternberg (1987)
believe that the ability to acquire and manage
tacit knowledge are hallmarks of managerial
success. Opportunities to use tacit knowledge
are prime factors in attracting and
maintaining a talented, loyal, productive
workforce (Smith, 2000).
Valuable human and knowledge resources
will be wasted unless management openly
accepts and supports efforts to gather, sort,
transform, record and share knowledge.
Priceless knowledge will continue to be lost
unless organizations make better use of their
prime resource ­ relatively unchallenged,
creative people who are eager to apply their
knowledge. Tacit knowledge, in particular, is
lost through outsourcing, downsizing,
mergers and terminations. Reportedly, 90
percent of the knowledge in any organization
is embedded and synthesized in peoples’
heads (Wah, 1999b; Bonner, 2000a; Lee,
2000). Most tacit knowledge is an invisible
line item in corporate budgets. However, it is
tacit knowledge that plays a key role in


The role of tacit and explicit knowledge in the workplace

Journal of Knowledge Management
Volume 5 . Number 4 . 2001 . 311±321

Elizabeth A. Smith

leveraging the overall quality of knowledge
(Quinn et al., 1996, Wah, 1999a; Goffee and
Jones, 2000).
This paper...

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