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Types of knowledge

The most effective knowledge management strategy considers the ways different types of knowledge—explicit, tacit, and implicit—flow and stagnate, and enables the mobilisation of critical knowledge to where it needs to be. Relying on a single approach to knowledge transfer, leaves a lot of know-how untapped. A common example is when we stand up a SharePoint or Confluence instance and leave people to figure out how to put it to use.

3 Knowledge Types

Explicit

Explicit knowledge is written down and is accessible in one way or another. It’s easy to articulate and easy to share. A good example is anything you can point to with information in it—e.g. your intranet, a book, a blog post.

Tacit

Tacit knowledge is harder to make tangible, because it lives in our heads, and is made up from our own experiences and individual contexts. It’s not written down and as Dave Snowden described, it only comes to the surface when someone asks the question. An example may be the way pizza dough feels to the chef when it’s at just the right elasticity.

Implicit

Implicit knowledge emerges in the way tasks are performed. Organisational culture is implicit. Skills that can be transferred from one job to another are implicit.

Working with different types of knowledge

These definitions of knowledge don’t matter for getting things done, but by referring to the 8 Pillars of KM, you can be sure you’ll have a multitude of ways to capture all 3 types of knowledge, depending on what knowledge is most important to achieving the outcome you’re looking for.

Storing and retrieving explicit knowledge

It’s ideal when we can centralise explicit knowledge in the one location, or ‘single source of truth’. Intranet platforms with an effective search function make explicit knowledge reusable, but you’ll still need to work on the behaviours required for consistent knowledge capture across teams. Like I said earlier, supplying a knowledge management system (KMS) is not enough. It needs to be seen as a central hub for getting work done and people need to know how to capture and structure for findability.

Revealing tacit knowledge

Apprenticeships and mentoring are formal frameworks for transferring tacit knowledge; and facilitation is useful for a more casual setting. Stories and anecdotes are where tacit knowledge comes out of hiding, and there are practices, methods, and tools specifically designed to surface it. Conversational methods like knowledge cafes; interviewing techniques; the KCS practice of capturing the customer’s issue at the time of the conversation; and enterprise social networks and chat platforms like Slack enable conversations across distributed teams. You won’t always need to capture tacit knowledge. Sometimes it’s enough to have facilitated the conversation that revealed it, but if it’s reuse has value to the organisation, capture it.

Describing the implicit knowledge

Typically, your new hires will run into the icebergs of implicit knowledge hidden in undocumented processes. This is the value of peer learning programs like shadowing and pair programming. Capturing and transferring implicit knowledge is most often the domain of your Learning & Development team. Micro learning platforms enable the delivery of contextual help, which can make that knowledge transfer easier to achieve, but there’s still an art to articulating it in the first place. Your newest people or an external party may well be the best place to start.

Comments:

  • August 6, 2012

    Can’t agree more that KM needs to be multipronged, I like the oil rig analogy, it’s very hard to transfer what is essentially experience based intuition. I like to simplify it slightly and describe knowledge as static and dynamic, static being infrequently changing documentation, user guides etc and dynamic being community driven break fix knowledge, probably closer to what the guy on the oil rig was using.

    Now if I could find a way to harness both these types of knowledge……

    Collaboration and social practices help find static and create dynamic by connecting with like minded people or people looking for the same outcome but to ‘train’ people to do this is very difficult, the skills are deep within a persons personality…

    reply
    • August 7, 2012

      At the KM Congress, one speaker explained the Message In a Bottle activity. You give a piece of paper in the shape of a bottle to people who then fill in a space that says “I need help with _______”, along with name and contact. Then paper lifebuoys are provided with a space for the rescuers to fill in their name, contact info, and a quick summary of the problem they have an answer for. This activity gets people the help they need, but can also help you map connections that will solve real issues and knowledge gaps on an ongoing basis.

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