What is implicit knowledge and how is it different from tacit knowledge?
, Alexandre Caulier
Businesses are endless repositories of information. From meeting notes to emails and everything in between, your employees generate an _enormous _amount of knowledge in a single workday.
The problem is that businesses treat all information the same way. But, in reality, your business has different types of knowledge that require different approaches. Leaders often lump together to types of knowledge—implicit and tacit—but they’re two different things.
Knowing how to categorize and document your information will help you ensure it’s accessible and useful to every team member.
What is implicit knowledge?
The most underutilized form of knowledge in any organization is implicit knowledge. This is knowledge rooted in:
- Real-life situations or applications
- On-the-job learning
- Personal preferences
As employees spend more time working for your business, they develop a particular way of doing things. Their process might be completely different than your official SOPs, but they make it work. For example, you might ask data analysts to run a weekly report. Every analyst has their own approach to running this report—that’s implicit knowledge.
Implicit knowledge is harder to manage from an organizational perspective because it’s not typically documented. If you don’t know to ask your team about their processes, you probably don’t have this data documented anywhere in your knowledge management system. These factors also make implicit knowledge hard to teach.
What happens if a key employee leaves? All of that implicit knowledge disappears forever. Even if you trust one employee with important processes, that experience isn’t shared with the rest of the team. Siloing your implicit information means you could miss out on important performance improvements and efficiencies.
Despite its challenges, implicit knowledge is valuable to your business and should be documented. Knowledge management helps you collect implicit knowledge, document it, and put it to work for your business.The right platform helps you master implicit knowledge and:
- Increase employee collaboration
- Empower employees
- Invest in your team’s skills
- Give team members the information they need, when they need it
- Document answers to critical questions
The key differences between tacit and implicit knowledge
As we discussed, implicit knowledge is made up of your team’s less obvious experience and skills. Since its nuances can be hard to spot, it’s often mistaken for _tacit _knowledge—a type of knowledge that’s nearly impossible to document. As a result, a lot of valuable, miscategorized implicit knowledge ends up falling by the wayside.
Let’s take a look at some differences between tacit and implicit knowledge to give you a clear picture of the valuable information you can—and should—be documenting and sharing.
Tacit knowledge is all about intuition. It’s knowledge that you don’t even know you have. You gain tacit knowledge through experience, storing it in your brain as an intuitive gut-reaction. It’s hard to push intuition out of an employee’s brain and into your knowledge management platform.
Implicit knowledge, on the other hand, _can _be articulated (as hard as that is, sometimes). Joan can take some time to identify her data extraction methods and document them in a knowledge base for everyone to see and benefit from. In other words, we can identify, express, and capture our implicit knowledge.
Tacit knowledge isn’t easily transferred. You can’t necessarily train someone on how to sell better, write better, or hire better—sometimes it comes down to personal experience and intuition. That’s why not everyone is a natural-born salesperson.
Unlike tacit knowledge, implicit knowledge is entirely shareable, which gives immense value to your organization. If your employees have the same task but execute it in different ways, they might not realize it, but proper documentation can share those processes with everyone.
Tacit knowledge is all about instinct and gut reactions. It’s rooted in personal experience and is hard to share. For example, say Dan is the go-to rep for handling difficult clients because of the magical way he calms people. Because it’s a tacit skill he carries from job to job, other team members can’t easily apply it to their roles—even if Dan _could _somehow identify and explain it to them (which isn’t likely).
Implicit knowledge is concerned with the “how.” It’s the way one employee writes better emails than everyone else, even though you trained everyone the same way. It’s your star salesperson’s ability to close 50% more often than everyone else. It’s the magic of _how _someone does something—how an employee acts on tacit information gained throughout their lives.
An employee’s implicit knowledge _can _be used by your other employees. After articulating and documenting implicit knowledge in your knowledge base, it’s possible for all of your employees to apply it to their workflow.
Capture your team’s implicit knowledge
Implicit knowledge doesn’t have to be an ominous cloud hanging over your business. Sure, it’s a bit nebulous, but you can still document the “how” of your business with the right approach.
Get a system that combines your team’s emails, chats, and documents in one place. Add context behind everything and finally make your data accessible to all your teams with a smart knowledge sharing solution like Elium.