Tacit Knowledge: At the Water cooler is where you find it.

Last week I published a blog titled Storytelling : I had dinner and I read a report.  Soon after I published it I had a chat to one of our regular blog reader who said, ” You make mention of Tacit Knowledge in your blog but you don’t explain what it is “. My response was,” but I had a Wiki link. So, those who don’t know can look it up”.

However, the reader disagreed that it was enough to provide a link because Tacit Knowledge is not a common term but a very important term and if you don’t explain it, its ignored. Its like those terms in English which even if we don’t understand the exact meaning of, when put in a sentence we “think” we get the gist of what’s being said and we keep reading.

Well, our reader has a point.

So what is Tacit Knowledge and why should you care to know about? 

Let’s understand this with an example.

If I wanted to share with you that Singapore is in South East Asia I can do that by writing it down and passing it to you or just telling you. This is explicit knowledge that can be that written down, verbalised, transmitted, and understood by a recipient.

However, If I now wanted to share how to diagnose a business challenge or how to ride a bike. I may be able to share tips but I can’t possibly write everything down. This knowledge that is impossible to explicitly transfer to others is called Tacit Knowledge.

So where can we acquire Tacit Knowledge from? 

Based on 2 insights

1)The key to acquiring Tacit Knowledge is experience

2)* 80% of corporate knowledge flows through informal groupings- these are normally networks that businesses have little awareness of and zero control over . 

The obvious question to ask is how can we create a culture of sharing experiences in an informal setting? In other words,  How can we encourage a storytelling culture for Tacit knowledge sharing in an informal setting ?

Here is what comes to mind which would be a good start.

Create environments that promote conversations/ storytelling  amongst employees.

Google is a great example of this. Here are some things they have done to promote conversations/ storytelling

1. Long lunch tables to increase the  people you sit with.

2. Managing the waiting time in the lunch line.  Google’s team responsible for creating environment’s  suggests  3-4 mins wait is good to create a balance between having a conversation and not wasting time.

3. Strategic placement of printers/ photocopiers and toilets so that you have to cross a team that you would not normally interact with.

David Radcliffe the man in charge of creating the perfect work environment at Google, says that:

“Casual collisions are what we try and create in the work environment. You can’t schedule innovation, you can’t schedule idea generation and so when we think about our facilities around the world we’re really looking for little opportunities for engineers or for creative people to come together.”

If we were to take David’s thought further we can say- We can’t always schedule Tacit knowledge sharing but we can create environments where casual collisions on Tacit knowledge sharing can happen. Because, its at places like  water coolers, corridors, lunch tables and lifts where you naturally story tell which leads to Tacit knowledge sharing.

*Source: Applying Group Storytelling in Knowledge Management



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"I attended your story telling course some time back. And I've enjoyed keeping up my knowledge with your blog. You may not have realised however, that the Whole of Government is implementing Internet Seperation. Hence I'm not able to access the links to read your articles. Could I suggest including a QR code in your emails so that I can use my mobile to scan it and gain immediate access to the article? It would be most helpful"