October 15, 2008

Tacit Knowledge

Filed under: Human Relations, Philosophy — Robert John Ed @ 2:29 am

The idea of tacit knowledge is becoming ever more important to me as I study (partly because it was explicitly covered in strategy) and grow over the course of my career.  This happens to everyone, of course.

My father (who I admire as much as anyone on this planet) has worked at a steel and iron processing plant in Alexandria since I can remember.  He works harder than anyone I’ve ever met in my life, literally 60 hour weeks and he’s been doing it for quite some time.  The company he works for, Standard Iron, creates the large industrial beams of metal that are used in construction of football stadiums, universities and buildings all over the world.

In Alexandria, they have an older crane that has suffered from many years of use.  It’s a cranky piece of machinery that swings hundreds of thousands of pounds through the air amidst hundreds of workers in the yard.  It’s very dangerous.  It’s also very costly.  Dropping a load of beams could have a huge impact on the business in terms of raw materials or slowing down production.  The problem is that the crane costs a great amount of money, so getting one that works as it’s supposed to is tough.  Yet the company can’t risk letting anyone drive it.  John Robert Ed is the only person there to do it.  He grew along with the crane and is now the only person who understands how to operate it effectively.

This is tacit knowledge at its most obvious.  What about the situations that aren’t so easily observable?  Knowledge workers must deal with this throughout their careers.  They must become teachers in order to transplant their value to an organization that pays them.  Doing and teaching, it turns out, are quite different things.  Of course, the idea that teachers can’t do is ridiculous.  Everyone knows many things that they can’t put into words.  I have a feeling that knowledge workers, are as cognizant of this as anyone.  As I grow older, it seems like I know a lot more, but am ever more pressed to actualize it into words.  Codifying the information, or making it tangible, just doesn’t seem feasible.  I wonder if this is due to the complexity of the information (it’s incrementally decreasing in size while increasing in importance) or some other phenomenon.

This all leads me to consider the ideas of tacit knowledge we are unaware of.  There are certainly things we know and know well that are simply beyond our cognition.  I began to look into this idea online, but couldn’t find a lot of substantial definition and description (if you have anything let me know).  So I’ll label it unknown tacit knowledge for now.  In my search, I came across consciousness, sapience and awareness.

Time to get back to studying.



  1. It seems that with dedication, people over time learn to adapt and acquire strategies to approach competency… excellence has its roots there…where the competent find themselves …’in the zone’

    Comment by deftflourish — October 15, 2008 @ 3:52 am

  2. One thing I love is when you are trying to master a new subject but all the while are wondering exactly how much you are actually learning. Then, you run into a situation where you are on the spot and you have to actually use some of this knowledge. It’s at that time that all these seemingly unknown thoughts and ideas somehow make their way into your verbiage. Weird/awesome.

    Comment by Brian Haugen — October 22, 2008 @ 4:45 am

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