3 types of knowledge

The Difference Between Explicit, Implicit, and Tacit Knowledge (and Why You Need Them All)

Adopting a knowledge management platform is a tremendous undertaking for your organization. But it’s a worthwhile endeavor: 80% of knowledge management users say that it gives them a competitive advantage.

When it’s time to collect, consolidate, and organize your data in an accessible way, it can feel daunting to document everything properly. How can you best organize your information so it’s accessible to the right team members?

First things first: You need to understand the types of knowledge that already exist in your organization. Design your knowledge management solution for long-term success by learning about the three types of knowledge and how to capture each in your organization.

The 3 types of knowledge

In the field of knowledge management, we characterize an organization’s knowledge in three ways. Ideally, you want to make all three types of information as accessible as possible so your team saves more time and stays productive. Let’s discuss each type of knowledge and how to integrate them into your knowledge management strategy.

1. Explicit knowledge

You likely already have a repository of explicit knowledge in your organization. Explicit knowledge is information in its most basic form, which is documented and shared with your team. This is the easiest type of knowledge to explain, share, and understand. Explicit knowledge includes information like:

  • SOPs
  • Instruction manuals
  • Guides
  • White papers
  • Datasheets
  • Product specifications
  • Case studies
  • Formal documentation

Explicit knowledge is helpful because it’s absolute: It’s black-and-white information that doesn’t leave room for interpretation. Best of all, it’s already prepared and ready for your knowledge management system.

Explicit knowledge is best used for training new employees on your processes. It’s also helpful to give step-by-step guides or context on your business processes.

The biggest challenge with explicit knowledge is finding a way to efficiently store it in your knowledge management platform. Fortunately, Elium makes your explicit information accessible to the right employees at the right time with a system that keeps your explicit knowledge trustworthy and up-to-date.

2. Implicit knowledge

Implicit knowledge builds upon your existing explicit knowledge. It’s the way your team _applies _their explicit knowledge. This includes the skills and best practices your employees bring from previous jobs. Implicit knowledge includes data gleaned from:

  • Skype
  • Email
  • Intranet
  • Meeting notes

Because implicit knowledge is based on practice and skills, it differs from person to person. For example, if you ask your data team to pull a report, they’re likely going to take different approaches to run the same report. The different paths each employee takes to perform this task is informed by their implicit knowledge.

Implicit knowledge is more challenging to document because all of the information is based on your team’s workflow and daily activities. Subject matter experts (SMEs) become the gatekeepers of important processes and practical applications in your businesses, too.

Without proper documentation, your organization risks losing this implicit knowledge when SMEs leave your business. Fortunately, solutions like Elium help you capture SME guidance through the accessible, smart documentation of your internal communications.

3. Tacit knowledge

The final type of knowledge is tacit knowledge, which builds on the foundation created by explicit and implicit knowledge. Tacit knowledge is wisdom in its purest form. This is the experience a person earns over time—likely before their tenure at your company.

Tacit knowledge is how one of your graphic designers seems to “get” your aesthetic more quickly. Or how a customer service representative easily de-escalates client calls without a problem while everyone else seems to struggle.

Tacit knowledge builds on explicit knowledge, which is the step-by-step information an employee needs to complete a task. From there, they gain experience doing that task and build their implicit knowledge from practical application. After performing the task many times over the years, the person gains wisdom (tacit knowledge) that’s difficult to explain to others in a simple document or phone call.

If this wise employee leaves, you immediately lose their tacit knowledge because it’s based on their individual experience. When you allow one employee to be the go-to person for a situation or project, that’s a liability against your knowledge management strategy because their absence can cause problems in your business.

Tacit knowledge is the most challenging type of information to share and express because it’s based on personal experience. How can your successful sales rep coach others on client management when they’re just a natural at selling?

It’s possible to document tacit knowledge, but it can be very challenging. To make use of your team’s tacit knowledge, invest in strategies like:

  • Mentoring
  • Exit interviews
  • Ongoing quarterly interviews

Your team is trying to document the undocumentable, which is a challenge. But instead of relying solely on explicit or implicit knowledge, your organization can build a repository of tacit knowledge over time by working with your experienced team members.

Capture all of your organization’s knowledge

Your organization likely has all three types of knowledge within your team and systems already. When it’s time to formulate a strategy for your knowledge management platform, you need to understand the three types of information you’re categorizing and how they affect your long-term success.

But you don’t have to do this alone. Elium helps you automatically organize, store, and access your organization’s wisdom—with hands-on help every step of the way. See the difference for yourself: Start a free 14-day trial of Elium now.

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