Explicit and Tacit Knowledge: To Share or Not to Share

Explicit and Tacit Knowledge: To Share or Not to Share

Iris Reychav (Bar-Ilan University, Israel) and Jacob Weisberg (Bar-Ilan University, Israel)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-026-4.ch235
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Abstract

The question of whether or not it is “worthwhile” for employees to share their knowledge has received a great deal of attention in the literature, which focuses on the technological factors that motivate knowledge sharing (Duffy, 2000). However, the ethical aspect regarding the question of knowledge ownership is discussed in only a partial way in Wang’s (2004) model, where he examines employees’ desire to share (or not to share) the knowledge they possess. This internal conflict is based on employees’ having to choose between their own personal interests and their ethical understanding about organizational ownership of all employee-based knowledge. This article will elaborate on and examine the implications of knowledge sharing at the individual level. Employees, who manage to find the balance between their own personal interests and their ethical understanding about organizational ownership of employee-based knowledge, will engage in a high rate of knowledge sharing activities in the organization. Goals of Managing Organizational Knowledge Sharing. An organization’s desire to manage its knowledge sharing activities is based on the need to capture, catalog and store the organization’s knowledge and transform it into knowledge that is both easily and immediately accessible to the organization and its members (Gupta & Govindarajan, 2000). The goal of knowledge sharing is to support and encourage the creation, transference, application and use of knowledge within the organization (Reychav & Weisberg, 2005). Scholars, researchers and practitioners alike express an increasing interest in the subject of organizational knowledge sharing between the individual employee and the organization, and among employees themselves (Almashari, Zairi, & Alathari, 2002). Types of Knowledge. One of the classifications of organizational knowledge differentiates between two types of knowledge: explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge (Polanyi, 1958); explicit knowledge represents the knowledge that is accessible to all organization employees, while tacit knowledge represents the personal knowledge possessed by individual employees. Organizations seek to obtain employees’ tacit knowledge and convert it into explicit knowledge, which can then be easily transferred to the organization’s technological systems and networks. In this manner, the knowledge is distributed throughout the entire organization (Inkpen & Dinur, 1998; Ruppel & Harrington, 2001), thereby increasing the organization’s human capital (its employees). Conflicts of Interest. Organizations invest in developing their human capital (Nahpiet & Ghoshal, 1998). As a result, employees expand their knowledge and expertise in order to create a personal competitive advantage within the organization and the market (Carlile, 2002). Knowledge is a resource and individuals who possess knowledge use it to acquire positions of power and control both within the organization and outside of the organization. Therefore, organizations that attempt to gain their employees’ knowledge (mainly of the tacit type) and make it accessible may, in the process, create a conflict of interests between the individual who possesses the knowledge and the organization that is interested in acquiring this knowledge (Storey & Barnett, 2000). Hence, the main question is: Why would employees be motivated to share their personal knowledge with the organization at the risk of losing their relative power and advantage over the organization and the market? This question is even more complicated in light of the employee’s other conflicting considerations: the understanding that the organization has ownership rights over the personal knowledge the employee acquires while employed by the organization, conflicting with employees’ desire to realize their own personal interests by achieving a position of power/status.
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Introduction

The question of whether or not it is “worthwhile” for employees to share their knowledge has received a great deal of attention in the literature, which focuses on the technological factors that motivate knowledge sharing (Duffy, 2000). However, the ethical aspect regarding the question of knowledge ownership is discussed in only a partial way in Wang’s (2004) model, where he examines employees’ desire to share (or not to share) the knowledge they possess. This internal conflict is based on employees’ having to choose between their own personal interests and their ethical understanding about organizational ownership of all employee-based knowledge. This article will elaborate on and examine the implications of knowledge sharing at the individual level. Employees, who manage to find the balance between their own personal interests and their ethical understanding about organizational ownership of employee-based knowledge, will engage in a high rate of knowledge sharing activities in the organization.

Goals of Managing Organizational Knowledge Sharing. An organization’s desire to manage its knowledge sharing activities is based on the need to capture, catalog and store the organization’s knowledge and transform it into knowledge that is both easily and immediately accessible to the organization and its members (Gupta & Govindarajan, 2000). The goal of knowledge sharing is to support and encourage the creation, transference, application and use of knowledge within the organization (Reychav & Weisberg, 2005). Scholars, researchers and practitioners alike express an increasing interest in the subject of organizational knowledge sharing between the individual employee and the organization, and among employees themselves (Almashari, Zairi, & Alathari, 2002).

Types of Knowledge. One of the classifications of organizational knowledge differentiates between two types of knowledge: explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge (Polanyi, 1958); explicit knowledge represents the knowledge that is accessible to all organization employees, while tacit knowledge represents the personal knowledge possessed by individual employees. Organizations seek to obtain employees’ tacit knowledge and convert it into explicit knowledge, which can then be easily transferred to the organization’s technological systems and networks. In this manner, the knowledge is distributed throughout the entire organization (Inkpen & Dinur, 1998; Ruppel & Harrington, 2001), thereby increasing the organization’s human capital (its employees).

Conflicts of Interest. Organizations invest in developing their human capital (Nahpiet & Ghoshal, 1998). As a result, employees expand their knowledge and expertise in order to create a personal competitive advantage within the organization and the market (Carlile, 2002). Knowledge is a resource and individuals who possess knowledge use it to acquire positions of power and control both within the organization and outside of the organization. Therefore, organizations that attempt to gain their employees’ knowledge (mainly of the tacit type) and make it accessible may, in the process, create a conflict of interests between the individual who possesses the knowledge and the organization that is interested in acquiring this knowledge (Storey & Barnett, 2000).

Hence, the main question is: Why would employees be motivated to share their personal knowledge with the organization at the risk of losing their relative power and advantage over the organization and the market? This question is even more complicated in light of the employee’s other conflicting considerations: the understanding that the organization has ownership rights over the personal knowledge the employee acquires while employed by the organization, conflicting with employees’ desire to realize their own personal interests by achieving a position of power/status.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Knowledge Management: Knowledge Management is an economic view of the strategic value of organizational knowledge that facilitate the acquisition, sharing and utilization of knowledge (Smith & Lyles, 2003, p.12)

Knowledge: Knowledge is an organized combination of ideas, rules, procedures, and information (Marakas, 1999, p.264)

Organizational Knowledge: Organizational knowledge is equated with professional intellect (Quinn, Philip, & Sydney, 1996). Organizational knowledge is a metaphor, as it is not the organization but the people in the organization who create knowledge

Ethics: Ethics permits a system of moral standard or values (Wang, 2004). Ethical concerns permeate all human actions and interaction that arise in connection with core values as honesty or justice (Kakabadse, Kakabadse, & Kouzmin, 2002)

Human Capital: Human Capital is a combination of employee’s education, training, experience (Becker, 1964 AU30: The in-text citation "Becker, 1964" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. )

Tacit Knowledge: Tacit knowledge is knowledge that has not been formalized or cannot be formalized or made explicit (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995). Tacit knowledge is based on the individual’s subjective insights, intuitions and is deeply rooted in actions experience, ideals, values and emotions (Polanyi, 1966)

Organizational Norms: Organizational Norms is a set of rules for human behavior in the organization. Organizational Norms regard information sharing as usual, correct and socially expected work place behavior (Constant et al., 1994, p.404

Knowledge Sharing: Knowledge Sharing is an exchange or transfer process of facts, opinions, ideas, theories, principles and models within and between organizations include trail and error, feedback and mutual adjustment of both the sender and receiver of knowledge (Szulanski, 1996)

Jarvenpaa & Staples: 2001, p.153)

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