This chapter explores the concept of ‘tacit knowledge’ and how organizations can foster the sharing and exchange of tacit knowledge. Various views of tacit knowledge are discussed and a framework is developed distinguishing different conceptualizations of knowledge and how different types of knowledge are acquired, held in memory, and manifested. An understanding of these distinctions can aid in determining the best approach for transferring tacit knowledge and skills at the individual and organizational levels. Finally, I review various tacit knowledge transfer approaches based on the distinctions identified in the framework and discuss their suitability for different aspects of tacit knowledge transfer.
The origin of the tacit knowledge concept is usually attributed to Polanyi (1966), who laid a theoretical foundation, and coined the often quoted phrase “we can know more than we can tell”. Drawing on Ryle’s work (1949), Polanyi focused on two dimensions of knowing, “knowing what” and “knowing how”, arguing that these two aspects of knowing are always both present in any instance of a person’s knowledge. According to Polanyi, we know that tacit knowledge exists because we can see the practical outcomes of its application and can thus infer that there must be some implicit or tacit knowledge that the person has but cannot articulate. Polanyi argued that the aim of explicitly and objectively formalizing all knowledge may not be achievable, as the implicit or tacit aspects of knowledge cannot be fully replicated as formal explicit knowledge.