When creating a knowledge management strategy, the differences between explicit, implicit, and tacit knowledge must be taken into account in order for the end result (of creating a knowledge base) to be as useful as possible in both the short and long terms. So how can you best understand things like explicit vs tacit knowledge? Let’s dive in!
Explicit knowledge is knowledge covering topics that are easy to systematically document (in writing), and share out at scale: what we think of as structured information. Explicit knowledge includes things like FAQs, instructions, raw data and related reports, diagrams, one-sheets, and strategy slide decks.
These types of explicit knowledge are all things that have traditionally been what has been captured in a knowledge base or as part of a knowledge management strategy. It’s formalized documentation that can be used to do a job, make a decision, or inform an audience. Here is an example of documented explicit knowledge:
Learn more about structuring knowledge.
Implicit knowledge is, essentially, learned skills or know-how. It is gained by taking explicit knowledge and applying it to a specific situation. If explicit knowledge is a book on the mechanics of flight and a layout diagram of an airplane cockpit, implicit knowledge is what happens when you apply that information in order to fly the plane.
Implicit knowledge is what is gained when you learn the best way to something. You can then take that experience and synthesize it with other learned information in order to solve an entirely new problem.
This type of knowledge has traditionally been excluded from formal knowledge bases, as it can be difficult to document and capture in a scalable way. In order to add it to a knowledge base, think of it this way: “What new thing did I learn, would it be useful to others, and how can I explain it?” Here is an example of documented implicit knowledge:
Tacit knowledge is intangible information that can be difficult to explain in a straightforward way, such as things that are often “understood” without necessarily being said, and are often personal or cultural. An example is hearing someone say something and correcting them by saying “We’d never use that phrase here.” Tacit knowledge is informal, learned with experience over time, and usually applies to a specific situation.
When it can be captured (if it’s not, for instance, a feeling), it should be added to a knowledge base because doing so makes it easy to share expertise gained over time with others who may need it. It doesn’t have to be a long or formal document; it can simply be a few lines to guide someone. Here’s an example of documented tacit knowledge: