Sorting the Relationship of Tacit Knowledge to Story and Narrative Knowing

Sorting the Relationship of Tacit Knowledge to Story and Narrative Knowing

Jo A. Tyler (Pennsylvania State University, USA) and David M. Boje (New Mexico State University, USA)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-176-6.ch006
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This chapter fits the theme, the interplay between creativity and control in organizations. Story is often claimed to be a way to elicit tacit knowledge from people and their organization. The authors would like to suggest that this is impossibility. To story something is to shape it intuitively and willfully. Story shapes events into experience and into memory. Without story experience is just reenactment. To reenact is to relive the events, to feel the pain, fear, and terror.
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The concepts of knowledge management, and knowledge-intensive work have been developing for quite some time. In both theory and the vernacular of practice, knowledge and the knowledge worker are claimed to be the most important asset of contemporary organizations (Stewart, 1997). Knowledge workers as said to possess tacit knowledge, which various knowledge methodologies and specialized knowledge workers such as the “integrators, librarians, synthesizers, reporters, and editors” (Prusak, 1998, p. 110) convert to explicit knowledge when they “extract knowledge from those who have it, put it in a structured form, and maintain it or refine it over time” (Prusak, 1998, p. 110). Critics suggest that such knowledge solutions are perfunctory and propagandist (Styhre & Sungren, 2005). Managerialist policies rely upon the manipulation of emotions and identity creation (Kärreman and Alvesson, 2004). Managerialism is the view from the top, from the perspective of the managers (owners & executives – or others with power to wield). It is a top-down logic, a one logic that becomes the logic of change. There is a major difference between official organizational rhetoric and common everyday practice (Höpfl 1995; Argyris and Schön, 1996; Knights and Willmott, 1999).

Knowledge-intensive companies, such as in high-tech environments, purport knowledge-workers to be highly valued members of an organization. At the same time, critics suggest that these same workers are being manipulated and even “engineered” to engage in such performativity that they burn-out, and are deprived of family life (Perlow, 2004). Managers interested in leveraging worker knowledge by transferring it are faced with “the challenge of detaching knowledge from some people and attaching it to others” (Seely-Brown, 2000, 123). The spirit of this sort of language establishes a fundamental tension where the worker must give up a part of herself, ostensibly for the greater good, and the manager necessarily “mines” the worker until the mine is exhausted, no longer useful. The worker in this way becomes a depreciating asset, unless she can simultaneously conjure a new vein of knowledge. Manager and worker conflict is often more obvious than in less knowledge-intensive settings (Roscigno & Hodson, 2004). So too may be conflicts between workers who are likely to be better rewarded for possessing knowledge that constitutes competitive advantage than they are for sharing it.

We propose to study a different paradox that marks knowledge work in knowledge-intensive companies. The purpose of the present work is to look at the quest for tacit knowledge in knowledge management. Storytelling is often said to be a way to elicit tacit knowledge from knowledge workers (Prusak, 1998; Gherardi & Nicolini, 2003; Bukowitz & Williams, 1999; von Krogh, Ichijo, and Nonaka, 2000) and to foster the internalizing of explicit knowledge, converting it to tacit knowledge (Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1995).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Story: Defined as “an oral or written performance involving two or more people interpreting past or anticipated experience” (Boje, 1991a: 111).

Emergence: Defined as absolute novelty, spontaneity, and improvisation, without past/future.

BME: Defined as Beginning, Middle and End progressive sequencing of retrospective narrative, the five-senses wholeness with imposed coherency that is in vogue since Aristotle.

Narrative: Defined by Aristotle requiring “imitation of an action that is complete in itself, as a whole of some magnitude... Now a whole is that which has beginning, middle, and end” the definition of coherent narrative (Aristotle, 350 BCE: 1450b: 25, p. 233).

Antenarrative: Defined as “nonlinear, incoherent, collective, unplotted, and prenarrative speculation, a bet, a proper narrative can be constituted” (Boje, 2001: 1). Antenarratives morph as they travel, picking up and depositing context as they move.

Living Story Theory: Defined here as the emergence, trajectory, and morphing of living story from antenarrative-conception to the death of decomposition and forgetting to tell anymore (Boje, 2005e).

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