Tacit Knowledge: Skills & Knowledge Gained Through Experience

6 Min Read
Tacit Knowledge: Skills & Knowledge Gained Through Experience

Effective knowledge management gives a company a competitive advantage. If an enterprise can share knowledge among its staff, then it can improve operations because employees understand how to approach various situations better. 

However, when talking about knowledge management, most of the time it refers to explicit knowledge. It makes sense because explicit knowledge is quantifiable and can easily be shared. 

What about tacit knowledge, though? How do businesses leverage this resource? How do you document business knowledge? Before learning the value of Tacit Knowledge, you should know what it entails.

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What is Tacit Knowledge?

It is knowledge acquired through an individual’s experiences, skills and ideas. Think of it as collective knowledge that a person gains from different passions, personalities and encounters, both personal and professional.

Defining what tacit knowledge is:

Skills: Skills learnt to carry out your work the process itself is actually explicit knowledge, but the experience of identifying and solving the issues that arise which enables you to increase speed and accuracy is the tacit knowledge.

Experience: Experience is valuable because people perform the same tasks and processes over time obtain valuable experience and knowledge of issues, problems and obstacles. This knowledge develops as they continually carry out these business processes and tasks that is not basic knowledge taught in any training course.

Ideas: Ideas can be core to business continuous improvement as the people that are regularly involved,  understand them and can see how to improve business processes. This working knowledge is significantly more valuable in making changes and improvements.

Habits: Automatic habits, intuition, and routines that we do not recognise we do.

In many instances, it is difficult to verbalise or even write down tacit skills.

Culture of Knowledge Sharing

Culture is an important consideration with knowledge sharing within the business. Similar backgrounds and beliefs can affect knowledge sharing.

Example: Japanese businesses are focused on continuous improvement (Six Sigma, Lean Methodology and Toyota Lean Manufacturing) and involving everyone in the change process before making changes asking for everyone’s input and sharing knowledge and ideas. From the managing director to the cleaning staff.

Whereas western businesses tend to work on a ‘need-to-know’ basis rather than shared knowledge.

Difference Between Tacit, Implicit, and Explicit Knowledge

We are conscious of some knowledge and it is readily available to us and can be easily shared with others. Other knowledge is through experience but does not automatically become conscious knowledge but intuitive knowledge.

There are three types of knowledge:

Explicit Knowledge: Knowledge that is easy to write down, document and share

Implicit Knowledge: Skills that are learnt and can be easily moved between jobs

Tacit Knowledge: Unconscious Knowledge or know-how that we use without being aware that we have it or use it.

Tacit knowledge comprises mental models, perceptions, assumptions, insights and beliefs. For this reason, tacit skills are hard to measure or share. 

In comparison, explicit knowledge is the kind that you gain from processes, technologies and systems. It is faster to acquire and easier to share than tacit skills. 

Evolution of Knowledge Management

The concept of “tacit knowledge”  goes back to 1958 when Michael Polanyi (Polányi Mihály) wrote The Tacit Dimension (1967) said that “we can know more than we can tell” or our ‘tacit knowing’. Our unconscious knowledge is like tying shoelaces.

Polanyi played a key role in the development of knowledge management. 

The process where you change tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge is also known as Tacitnessarticulation and codification.

What is an example of tacit knowledge?

An example of tacit knowledge is playing a musical instrument, making a unique dish or sculpting. After years of cooking a particular meal, it will taste different even when someone else follows the recipe. It’s because, with time, you have learned to prepare and cook that dish a specific way. 

In the business environment, professionals apply their tacit education to match the context. When employees leave, they take that knowledge with them, hence the need to capitalise on it as much as possible.

Training courses give explicit knowledge but not precious tacit knowledge from time and experience.


Sales process, what steps do prospects go through in the sales process? Knowing exactly when a prospective customer is ready to hear a sales pitch? What are the keywords and pain points that will convert? Knowing competitors downfalls.

Tacit knowledge can help improve best practices and standard operating procedures for many areas of business. 

Why is Tacit Knowledge Important?

Knowledge is an important asset in any organisation. It helps businesses develop strategies and employees make informed decisions. Tacit skills are economic resources that can give an enterprise a sustainable competitive advantage. This knowledge can improve efficiency and productivity. 

A worker who has been doing the same job for a decade may have a more efficient approach to tasks than what the standard operating procedure recommends. Such knowledge can help other employees improve the way of doing that job, hence boosting productivity.

Having a better way to do a particular activity saves time, money and reduce errors. Therefore, an organisation can use tacit skills to increase revenues. 

Proper management of Knowledge management helps build a company’s reputation and brand. Utilising the highly skilled teams members knowledge can give a high-quality product or service.

This is why it is important to harness tacit knowledge to keep that knowledge within the business if a team member leaves and someone else needs to take over the tasks and processes, or the worst happened your bus factor plan or major event continuity planning.

Process documentation is a way of storing knowledge and using it as a single source of truth. Especially helpful for remote workers and remotely-operating teams.

Where and How to Share Tacit Education

The knowledge that is in tacit form can be shared through various means. 

Document Processes and Procedures: Document business processes by writing down what you do as explicit knowledge, the underlying tacit knowledge can be naturally passed on.

This also gives a historic trail of continuous refinements and additional knowledge to use as reference and guidance.

Documenting process gives clarity and avoids any confusion or uncertainties your team may have about a given business process.

Lessons Learned Register: This is a method PMBOK Guide suggests a way of passing on personal experiences.

TeamWork and Mentorship: Work in groups so tacit knowledge is naturally transferred to other team members. This can work particularly well with trainees, apprentices working with more senior skilled team members. Offering Mentorship programs can help transfer knowledge.

Collaborative workplaces: Setting the stage for teams and individuals to share both tacit and explicit knowledge. Formal and informal collaboration platforms are some of the ways to encourage knowledge sharing. When different people work together towards a common objective, it requires them to share their experiences in all types. Informal platforms tend to be more effective options for knowledge sharing compared to formal channels. The reason for this is that people tend to feel less pressured on informal platforms and, therefore, are more likely to open up.

Companies must take the time to identify knowledge sharing means with high engagement, and find out why users prefer them. Some organisations make the mistake of introducing collaboration platforms without understanding the adaptation process. 

Polanyi suggested that before sharing tacit education, the possessor must first become conscious of it then find a way to articulate it. 

Employees can disseminate tacit skills through internships, direct interaction, mentoring, apprenticeships and networking.

Checkify Documenting Tacit Knowledge

Checkify allows you to document business processes in a collaborative space with the ability to continually refine and increase productivity.

Document your processes in a checklist that acts as a guide. Having documented knowledge to be shared and guaranteeing tasks are completed the best way every time.

Allowing people to add comments and suggestions for change that they have identified because they work with this process or task regularly can help with continuous business improvement.

Documenting processes also gives you a way anyone can step in or help train new members of the team. Giving them a documented guide, how-to of the business standard operating procedures.

Know which stage each process is at any time, who is completing the process offering accountability and an audit trail.

Create a collaborative environment with Checkify. Where new suggestions and ideas are encouraged to improve business processes.

Tacit knowledge encompasses the capabilities, beliefs, expertise, attitude and intuition that an individual collects through past and present experiences. Through tacit Knowledge Management, businesses can make sure that this knowledge doesn’t leave with employees when they go.

Documenting Tacit Knowledge

Hold onto valuable business experience, skills and ideas using Checkify.

Document Business Processes

Psychology and Knowledge 

Psychologists over time have been fascinated by the brain and the storage of knowledge. A little bit of research was discovered along the way on researching this article that might be of interest.

What are the 3 types of knowledge?

Jean Piaget psychologist established the developmental theory of knowledge or genetic epistemology which is a study of the origins of knowledge. He believed there are three types of knowledge:

  • Physical
  • Logical Mathematical
  • Social knowledge

What are the 4 types of knowledge?

In research carried out about leadership in the Military four types of knowledge for leadership were documented: Declarative, Procedural, Contextual, and Somatic.

There are four other categories of knowledge that can be separated by: factual, conceptual, procedural, and metacognitive

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