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Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Tacit Knowledge

During a period when many enterprises were thinking about how to build expert systems that might augment human beings, we learned about the concept of tacit knowledge. It was quickly discovered that while experts knew how to solve tough problems, formalizing that knowledge so that machines might use it was much more difficult. This article does a good job of explaining the concept. This is also well covered in Nonaka and Takeuchi's book The Knowledge Creating Company.

' ... The term was coined in the 1950s by the British-Hungarian physical chemist and philosopher, Michael Polanyi. In that era of enormous optimism about what physics and mathematics could achieve, it seemed only a matter of time before science formalised everything. This was to pave the way for computers to acquire all human abilities and run everything. Polanyi wanted to show there was more to scientific creativity than this and argued there was always something unspoken, even at the heart of the exact sciences. His most famous example was riding a bicycle: we can do it but without quite knowing how ... '

The author and his new book is worth examining:
Harry Collins is at the school of social sciences at Cardiff University, UK. His books include The Golem with Trevor Pinch (Cambridge University Press). This essay is based on Tacit and Explicit Knowledge (University of Chicago Press), which is part of the Cardiff group's project on expertise (www.cf.ac.uk/socsi/expertise)

1 comment:

stanrdyck said...

Franz, I would argue that there is also an element of reserved knowledge that is at play depending on the relationship between the employee and the enterprise. If not ideal, when lacking good faith and full engagement, the employee may well and intentionally withhold knowledge even as tacit knowledge mappers try to elicit it. Or, if unintentionally withheld this is sometimes because the enterprise denies the correctness of method and conclusions of some of its best and brightest and perhaps even convinces some they are wrong.