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 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 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 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.