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Tacit Knowledge – is it just common sense?

Wikipedia defines tacit knowledge as “…knowledge that is difficult to transfer to another person…” and states “… people are not often aware of the knowledge they possess or how it can be valuable to others…”

I recently attended a SharePoint conference and had an interesting conversation with a Knowledge Management Specialist.  He highlighted the differences between knowledge management and tacit knowledge. Up until that conversation I must admit I hadn’t given tacit knowledge much thought. However, since then, I’ve discovered/uncovered a realm of my own tacit knowledge that has proven to be very enlightening.

Our current perception of knowledge management is often classified as information or knowledge that is documented and shared.

Tacit knowledge is more difficult to capture and quantify.

Think about where you are in your life, how you got there and all the interactions and experiences you’ve had along the way. Think about how you react in any given situation. No one else has had exactly the same background or experiences that you’ve had.  When you factor in cultural differences, values and beliefs it’s mind boggling to think about how much tacit knowledge is out there.

If you could bottle up your tacit knowledge it’s hard to know where to start and end. You could write your memoirs or even turn information into training course material but it’d be a huge challenge to share everything you know (and when you start writing it down you’ll find that you’re addressing knowledge management rather than capturing your tacit knowledge).

When sharing knowledge it’s important to understand and trust your audience. They need to share your interest in a topic or situation to find value in your tacit knowledge. Tacit knowledge may also come down to your mannerisms and behaviour when interacting with people. How do you bottle that?

From a more practical perspective, you could set yourself a challenge of picking up work undertaken by one of your colleagues and identify the similarities and subtle differences in your and their approach.

A collaborative approach to delivering a project or piece of work can be an effective way of sharing tacit knowledge (or at least a part of it).

Have you ever heard the saying “use your common sense” or “it’s intuitive”? Let’s think about that for a minute… What may be common sense or intuitive to some of us may be foreign to others. They may not have had the training or experiences that would draw them to the same conclusions.

Drawing a baseline of shared knowledge is important when working within a team to deliver high quality solutions. This is where establishing best practices and patterns of best practice can be useful tools in establishing that common baseline.

With a world of knowledge out there it’s our tacit knowledge that helps to make us unique. Taking the time to listen and observe others in action can impart a raft of knowledge and build up our stores of tacit knowledge.

Posted by: Bernardine Slagter, Developer Consultant | 02 May 2012

Tags: Knowledge Management

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