When we don’t know what we know

One of the biggest obstacles organisations have when they introduce a learning and development program for the first time is designing a curriculum. Creating individual content for an e-learning system, for example, can be a daunting exercise—not unlike the writer facing a blank page. Even preparing a new team member with what they need to know can be a challenge when you don’t know what you know. Well, you know what they need to be able to get done, but you may not be able to explain the process or articulate the how or even the why, because the way you get it done has become so automatic that you don’t even think about it. This is called tacit knowledge and it’s what Dave Snowden describes as being the knowledge we don’t know we have until someone asks us the question.


Here are some ways you can reveal that tacit knowledge, so you can transfer it and increase the value of those knowledge assets through reuse and improvement.

  1. Create a checklist of steps from the start of a process or task through to completion, paying attention to the steps you take intuitively and noting down why you took a particular step or made a particular choice from a set of options.
  2. Have the learner interview the expert and document the questions and answers.
  3. Facilitate conversations in a comfortable environment with questions and answers captured on paper or whiteboards.
  4. Describe your organisational culture by mapping values and desired behaviours to specific impacts and outcomes.


The key to revealing tacit knowledge is to expose why decisions are made and actions are taken. When we know why, we can teach the how in a meaningful way and interrogate the what for improvements.

Don’t forget to validate your new knowledge assets by having some fresh eyes step through the material and test it for accuracy. Is there any confusing language? Are there any missed steps?

Capture, validate and test.

Post a Comment: