Tacit and Explicit Knowledge
Knowledge management owes its inspiration to the work of the philosopher Michael Polanyi
and the Japanese organization learning 'guru' Ikijuro Nonaka. Both of these theorists argued
that knowledge has two forms: explicit and tacit, which have some similarity to Stewart's hard
and soft knowledge assets.
Explicit knowledge - the obvious knowledge found in manuals, documentation, files and other accessible sources;
Implicit, or tacit knowledge - found in the heads of an organization's employees. Far more difficult
to access and use - for obvious reasons. Typically, an organization does not even know what this knowledge is. Worse,
the knee-jerk reaction of top managers who fire employees at the first sign of any downturn means that
the knowledge is often lost.
Grant (1997) argues that HRM can improve an organisation's competitiveness through
its impact on the 'knowledge base' of a business: the skills and expertise of its employees.
Management of human resources can provide a competitive advantage through a knowledge
management perspective. One strategy is to encourage replication of tacit knowledge within an
organisation without allowing it to replicate outside. From this perspective, organisations
1. Accept that knowledge is a vital source for value to be added to a business' products
and services and a key to gaining competitive advantage.
2. Distinguish clearly between explicit and tacit knowledge.
3. Accept that tacit knowledge rests inside individuals and is learned in an unstructured
and informal way.
4. Somehow, identify and tap this tacit knowledge and make it part of the 'structural
capital' of the business, so that it can be made available to others.
Drucker* (1998) contends that knowledge management will have a major impact on the structure
of future organizations. He predicts that knowledge-based organizations will have half the
number of management layers found in businesses today - and the number of managers will be cut
by two thirds. Drucker considers that the organizational structures featured in current
textbooks are still those of 1950's manufacturing industries. In the future, businesses
will come to resemble organizations that today's managers and students would not pay any
attention to: hospitals, universities, and symphony orchestras. In other words, knowledge-based
organizations 'composed largely of specialists who direct and discipline their own performance
through organized feedback from colleagues, customers and headquarters.'
* Drucker, P. (1998) 'The coming of the new organization' in The Harvard Business Review
on Knowledge Management (Harvard Business Review Series), Harvard University Press.
In the twentieth century information was collected in order to monitor and control workers.
'Knowledge' was held at the top of the organization where strategies were determined and
decisions made. But this Tayloristic view of the organizations ignored the wealth of knowledge
held by ordinary workers. In Drucker's view, specialist knowledge workers will resist the
primitive 'command and control' model of people management in the same way as professionals
such as doctors and university teachers do already.