Organizational Learning & Knowledge Management LO23873

From: AM de Lange (
Date: 02/02/00

Replying to LO23850 --

Dear Organlearners,

Patrick Sue < > writes:

>In the context of the article, Nonaka was referring to EXPLICIT
>knowledge creation. On page 97, he gives an example of
>creation of new knowledge: "A brilliant researcher has an
>insight that leads to a new patent." The insight is an example
>of the creation of tacit knowledge. [Host's Note:
>...creation of explicit knowledge?? It must be explicit because
>it's documented in the patent. Or, Patrick, do you mean the
>knowlege of how to come up with new insights, which is
>probably tacit? ..Rick]

Greetings Patrick and Rick,

Its a pity that Polanyi's books have been scrapped from our university's
library as books having "no value any more for modern times". Thus I
cannot check upon Fred Nichol's insistence that tacit knowledge cannot be

The fact that these books have been scrapped point to a serious perception
in modern times -- learning and creativity have very little to do with
each other. However, as soon as we begin to understand that TO LEARN IS TO
CREATE, then we will eventually become aware of the tacit dimension of
knowledge. Perhaps we will articulate that dimension as intuition or gut
feeling, but we will at least be tacitly aware of it.

Michael Polanyi himself became aware of tacit knowledge in the following
manner. As a physical chemist he began to focus his study on the physical
constants which occur so often in physico-chemical equations.

Here is an example which does not come from Polanyi.

Michael Faraday was perhaps the greatest experimentalist of the 19th
century, if not all times. One of the laws which he discovered, is the law
of electrolysis. It tells us what time (symbolised by t) is needed to
precipitate a certain mass (symbolised by m) of a substance X (with molar
mass M) on an electrode by forcing a current (symbolised by i) through a
solution containing element X in an ionic state with a charge symbolised
by r. All five these quantities are related through a ONE-TO-MANY-MAPPING
of the quantity F to them by the equation
        F = (t x i / r) x (M / m)

Please note that the equation has six quantities. We know from experience
that each of the five [t, i, r, M, m] can change so that we will call them

When ALL five variables [t, i, r, M, m] become known by empirical
measurements, the equation can be used to calculate the value of the sixth
quantity F. It has the fixed value of 96500 coulomb, no matter where on
earth and in what age the experiment has been done. Its value stays the
same even irrespective of what chemical substance X is used. Thus F is
called a "universal constant". Once this value of F is known, the equation
can be used as follows. When four (ALL BUT ONE) of the five [t, i, r, M,
m] become known by empirical measurements, the fifth ONE can be calculated
since we also know the sixth F.

The five variables [t, i, r, M, m] designate the EXPLICIT knowledge while
the one constant F designates the TACIT knowledge. The very equation
itself designates how the explicit and tacit levels of knowledge are
connected into ONE WHOLE.

What do we know about F? Its value is 96500 coulomb irrespective of
space-time events and ionic species involved. But the equation does not
tell us anything about this, nor does any of the five variables even hint
at it. This silence about the true nature of F gives us some idea of what
tacit knowledge is about.

Yet, how do we know for sure about F that "its value is 96500 coulomb
irrespective of space-time events and ionic species involved"? By
conducting many "experiments". It means that we have to make many
"controlled experiences". In other words, we have TO PAINT A RICH PICTURE
on electrochemical EXPERIENCES.

I hope it is now clear to you fellow learners why the level of
EXPERIENTIAL knowledge has to emerge before the level of TACIT knowledge
can emerge from it. For me any discussion on tacit knowledge without a
discussion on experiential knowledge is fragmentary, hence fruitless and
consequently even liable to destructive immergences.

But how do the experiential knowledge itself emerge? First year students
in chemistry arrive at our university from schools all over the country.
Some of them are still able to recall Faraday's equation which they copied
into their minds by rote learning. As for the rest of the students, this
reversible learning caused them to forget the equation more easily than
copying it into their mind. Have their reversible learning not reversed
itself? They then expect the lecturer to supply them on demand with the
equation. They have paid for it. They also expect the lecturer to supply
them on demand with the apparatus needed to test this equation in the
practicals. They have paid for it. They expect the lecturer to shut his
mouth on the person Michael Faraday and how he managed to discover this
equation. They have not paid for it. It is for the birds.

They expect all this because this is what they learnt at school to expect
of "science". We all have paid for it by our taxes.


This is not science! Nobody gave Faraday a ready made apparatus to use.
Nobody told him that he needs to measure only five quantities. Nobody
hinted to him that a universal constant will enter the picture. Nobody
gave him an equation to verify. He had to create everything step by step
all the way. He did it without pay. He had to create to learn the law of
electrolysis. Finally, he managed to articulate his knowledge on
electrolysis in a profound manner.

Since no student nor the educational beaurocrats who take their money want
to learn creatively like Faraday, no person of the calibre of Michael
Faraday emerges any more. Lack of innovation becomes big problem. The
solution? Bring in the new subject creativity. Lecturer A teaches
chemistry and lecturer B teaches creativity. Seldom will a student enroll
for both chemistry and creativity. Who cares? Yet A will not teach on
Faraday's creativity and B will not teach on electrochemistry. The perfect

Where is the wisdom? When will the third level of EXPLICIT knowledge ever
emerge into the last level of SAPIENT knowledge? What is our topic
(Organizational Learning & Knowledge Management) worth without wisdom?

Patrick also writes:

>Nonaka's article clearly demonstrates that he doesn't
>consider that all tacit knowledge can be made explicit.
>On page 99, he states "To convert tacit knowledge into
>explicit knowledge means finding a way to express the
>My research suggests that Polanyi defines tacit knowledge
>as knowledge that a person holds in his/her mind and body.
>Nonaka quotes Polanyi on page 98, "We can know more
>than we can tell." While much of tacit knowledge cannot
>be articulated, some tacit knowledge CAN be made explicit.
>Therefore it would be incorrect to say that tacit knowledge
>can't be made explicit.
>But, let's set aside these definitional issues. Let's assume
>that Nonaka's use of tacit refers to articulating that which
>can be articulated. That sounds more like knowledge capture
>than knowledge creation.

Set aside the definitional issues? So what makes bringing in "knowledge
capture" not yet another definitional issue?

Fred Nichols insists persistently that tacit knowledge cannot be
articulated. I have much respect for his firm standpoint because how many
people can shift their paradigms? 1%? How many people can shift their
grand paradigm? 0.01%? If only 1 out of 10 000 people can shift his/her
grand paradigm and thus articulate what formerly was impossible to
articulate, would we say carelessly that tacit knowledge can be

Let me illustrate with Faraday's equation what a paradigm shift has to do
with the articulation of tacit knowledge.

ALL five variables [t, i, r, M, m] have to be measured by macroscopical
instruments -- t with a clock, i and r with an ammeter, M and m with a
mass balance. They are called "macroscopical" because we can see and
touch these instruments directly. We can even smell, taste and hear them
should we care for all our five senses. I do it and perhaps Faraday did
it, but the students think it is foolish to go beyond sight. When we
rediscover Faraday's equation empirically, we need to know nothing of the
"microscopical" world of atoms, molecules and ions.

Again and again we will discover that we have to invoke a constant of
which "its value is 96500 coulomb irrespective of space-time events and
ionic species involved". What will we call this constant? Is the name we
will give to this constant not vital to the articulation of the tacit
knowledge on it?

We are now entering the domain of what I prefer to call "deep taxonomy".
The articulation of tacit knowledge always involves, among other things,
"deep taxonomy". Let me show why. Since Faraday has the honour of first
having discovered this constant, we may call it the Faraday constant. This
will be the constant's "nominal" name. But we can also give the constant
a "seminal" name. The one which chemists have given to it is the
"electrochemical" constant. Hence, to make sure that people understand the
taxonomy completely, we will write both names together as

        "electrochemical" constant (Faraday)

A little bit formal, is it not? The biological world makes use of double
barrel seminal names for species, first suggested and employed by Linnaus

But the articulation of tacit knowledge also involves a paradigm shift. We
know of F that "its value is 96500 coulomb irrespective of space-time
events and ionic species involved"? It is TACIT knowledge because there
is no way how the EXPLICIT, FORMAL equation can tell us this. Fred Nichols
may now insist that since we can say of F that "its value is 96500 coulomb
irrespective of space-time events and ionic species involved" that it is
intuitively not tacit knowledge any more.

So, let us ask Fred to think carefully about his intuition.
* Would you say that F is the only "universal constant"
* Is your answer, either YES or NO, an articulation of
  your tacit knowledge on the previous question, or merely
  an indication that you are aware of this tacit knowledge?
* Would you say that F may be related to some other
  "universal constants"?
* Did your answer to the former question, either YES or
  NO, articulated in any way why or why not such a
  relationship with other "universal constants" is possible?
* Do you know anything of the "fundamental unit of charge"
  (symbol e) and the "Avogadro constant" (symbol A)?
* Are you able to articulate the Faraday constant F in
  terms of the universal constants e and A?
* How will you come to the tacit knowledge on e and A
  in such a manner that you will never forget them again,
  unlike our students who will look them up in a text
  book and forget them a couple of hours later?

So what has e and A have to do with F? The fundamental unit of charge e is
the charge of a single proton (positive) or electron (negative). A
neutron is electrically neutral. Protons, neutrons and electrons are
"microscopical" rather than "macroscopical" particles. Six protons, six
neutrons and six electrons are needed for one C-12 atom to emerge. This
atom, also a "microscopical particle", is still so small and thus so light
that no chemical balance will ever be able to measure its mass. So we have
to measure the mass of many of them together. We need exactly A in number
of them to register precisely 12.00000 gram on the balance. The value of
A is incredibly large: 0.6 x 1 000 000 x 1 000 000 x 1 000 000 x 1000 000

The constant e applies to the "microscopical" level of our world. It is a
metaphor of the Learning Individual -- the fundamental charge per
individual. The constant A applies to the mapping between the
"microscopical" and "macroscopical" levels of our world. We have also seen
earlier that the constant F applies to the "macroscopical" level of our
world. It is a metaphor of the Learning Organisation -- the total
fundamentalistic charge of all the individuals. Thus, would it still be a
complete surprise if we make the value of e much larger by multiplying it
with exactly A and then compare the value of e x A with the value of F? In
other words, does the equation

        F = e x A

hold? In other words, does the pattern "total basic property" = "base
property" x "number of bases" hold?

Yes, it does hold empirically. But what is more important, is that as soon
as we can shift our paradigm from experiencing only the "macroscopical"
world to one in which the "macroscopical" and "microscopical" worlds map
on each other and for which we then seek experiences, we are able to
articulate F in terms of e x A !! Note that such an articulation is
impossible merely in terms of the "macroscopical" world.

What we can we learn from this? Every byte of tacit knowledge which we do
succeed in articulating, happens by way of an emergence -- a quantum jump
in our internal self-organisation. Whenever we become aware that there are
a number of related bytes of tacit knowledge which we fail persistently to
articulate by way of emergences, we have to prepare ourselves for a
paradigm shift to happen before it will become possible to articulate them
all. Such a paradigm shift is a grand emergence in our internal
self-organisation -- a gigantic quantum leap. Consequently a grand
paradigm shift itself is nothing else than an all embracing emergence in
our internal self-organisation -- an infinite quantum leap.

Fred Nichols is right to insist that we can't articulate our tacit
knowledge, but in a manner which he perhaps will not agree to. When we
articulate our tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge, the tacit
knowledge decreases faster than what the explicit knowledge increases.
This is a direct consequence of the "measurement problem" of Quantum
Mechanics. Thus, should we not take CARE of our tacit knowledge as in rote
learning, our tacit knowledge will eventually become depleted. In other
words, there will be no tacit knowledge left any more to be articulated.
We can't make something out of nothing.

So, how do we take CARE of our tacit knowledge? As for myself, I know that
it has to be replenished by emergences from my experiences. Thus I have to
increase my experiences. And again, as a consequence of the "measurement
problem", I have to increase them faster than the decrease in my tacit
knowledge so as not to get bancrupt in experiences. How do I manage this?
By responding more and more to the seven essentialities -- put becomings
before beings, seeking sureness outside indentities, tracing associative
patterns in wholeness, making effective connections between reactive
centres, pushing the limits further to the frontier, focussing on the
greatest variance in diversity and opening myself up to the world outside
me. In short -- "painting rich pictures".

The above tells how I manage the network of emergences which connect the
experiential, tacit, formal and sapient levels of my knowledge. I have
given many examples how I do it. I do not expect you fellow learners to
tell it in the same manner. But being a teacher, I expect that we will
have to give attention to how we create knowledge and tell about it. I
need to learn it in order to function as a teacher.

Often a student comes in grave dispair to me -- his/her rote learning has
finally brought an end to his/her academical career. A once bright future
has become a dull actuality. Only a tiny flicker of spirituality remains.
All the facilitation given by the Student Help Centres accomplished only
one thing -- the student realises that he/she has to make self a complete
change in a last desperate effort to take of his/her future. It is then
when I experience most how little we have succeeded in articulating
"create knowledge". It is then when my midwifery begins in all earnest.

I take extreme care not to present my own articulations to such students
-- it will be adding insult to injury. What I do take care of, is to help
them to become conscious of every emergence happening in the full spectrum
of their knowledge and how to take self care of them. It is their own
articulations in which much of my own learning of "create knowledge"
proceeds. Each student develops his/her own ways to "create knowledge". My
task is to find the patterns common to all of them and myself. One of my
greatest joys is to find out just how much patterns we have in common.
What I have described above happens in the minds of many students.

>[Host's Note: So... do we need another category for
>knowledge which has not yet been articulated, but could be?
> ..Rick]

Rick, the less we care for becoming (processes, functions, distinctions),
the more we have to accomodate beings (structures, parameters,
categories). In other words, when we do not care for the harmony between
becoming-being, we end up with to many either too many beings (like
categories) or too many becomings (like distinctions).

I could have used any one of hundreds of equations from physics or
chemistry to make my point. But have I have used specifically Faraday's
equation to make a very, very important point here.

Should you care to see what introductory textbooks on physics and
chemistry have to say on Faraday's equation for electrolysis, most of them
will not articulate the equation. Is this not rather strange since they
articulate other equations left, right and centre? Should you find an old
textbook which did articulate it, you would find it articulated as
        m = (E x i x t) / F
rather than
        F = (t x i / r) x (M / m)
where E is the "equivalent mass" of X rather than its
"molar mass" M. Elementary mathematics show that
        E = M / r

So why did textbook writers stop using this equation
        m = (E x i x t)/F
which summarises all Faraday's laws of electrolysis into one single
equation? Why did they not do the same with the hundreds of other
equations? Because students managed to "bugger up" this equation beyond
repairs more than any other equation. What these writers now do are to
fragment this equation into smaller pieces and then suggest elaborate
means how to fit them together again.

Why do they do it? Because there is some "deeper form"
(form of form) in the equation
        m = (E x i x t) / F
It is the form suggested by the way in which I have written
the equation, namely
        F = (t x i / r) x (M / m)
I have formed the groups [t, i, r] and [M, m] in it. The (t x i)
has to be viewed as one entity, namely electrical charge.
Thus (t x i / r) brings some "thing indefinite" into the picture,
something we eventually will have to articulate. Likewise we
know from stoichiometry in chemistry that (m / M) gives the
number of moles. Thus the inversion to (M / m) again brings
some "thing indefinite" into the picture, something we also
will have to articulate should we want to know fully.

So what tacit knowledge is lurking here, screaming silently to get heard?

Well, again a lot of controlled experiences (experiments)
are needed. Once we have acquired all these experiences,
we will be able to articulate
        (t x i / r) "as" (f x N)
        (M / m) "as" (A / N)
where N is the number of atoms precipitated by electrolysis.
In other words, the equation
        F = (t x i / r) x (M / m)
becomes the equation
        F = (f x N) x (A / N)

Huh! ! ! ! What do we have here???? Nothing else than the
equation between universal constants.
        F = f x A
except for the "indefinite thing" now appearing to occur as
both multiplier N (with f) and divisor N (with A). As you know
from your physics courses, Lagrange was the first person a
couple of centuries ago to show the importance of "indefinite
multipliers" to solve differential equations. A similar thing
happens in Einstein's relativistic equations for displacement,
time, etc so that the laws of physics eventually can remain
invariant in form -- the priciple of relativity!

What I now have done, is to show how the articulation of tacit
knowledge can help us to understand our explications like
        m = (E x i x t) / F
better by explicating it further with E = M / r into
        F = (t x i / r) x (M / m)
which is only one step removed from the creative collapse into
        F = f x A
Now, should we insist that it is not possible to articulate
        (t x i / r) "as" f x N
        (M / m) "as" (A / N)
which will easily happen when we condone specialisation
and thus will excuse ourselves from learning some chemistry,
we will not be able to get to
        F = (f x N) x (A / N)
so as to see how the N (number of atoms precipitated)
cancel itself out in a creative collapse. It is this latter feature
which boggles the minds of so many students -- "deep

What is the important point which I tried to make?
Our tacit knowledge act as an "indefinite multiplier/divisor"!

Rick, I am fully aware that the above "deep relaitivity" may boggle your
mind as well as that of most other fellow learners. But since we take
care of each other's learning, I beg you to question why it boggles your
mind. What is it about tacit knowledge which causes you not to use your
tacit knowledge to its full extent? Do you get the intuitive notion that
when you do not use your tacit knowledge to its full extent, you will need
additional categories, one after the other as you sink deeper into the mud
of fragmented knowledge?

Or as the Preacher in the Book of Ecclesiastes writes: "There is no end
to the making of books."

What makes me very sad is that I had to use an example from the
physico-chemical world to illustrate how tacit knowledge operates. By
using such an example, the far majority of fellow learners will feel
themselves excluded. What do they know about Michael Faraday and all his
work? How much do they fear mathematics? Do you not think that if I had an
example from the world of the humanities affording such a "rich picture",
I rather would have used that example? Since I cannot find one, why do any
of you fellow learners not offer one? But my sadness has also excitement
to it. I foresee a future in which we shall eventually be able to choose
many examples from the world of the humanities.

Obviously, I take a great risk to use this example. Soon some members of
this list will criticise me for using electrochemistry and mathematics
which have nothing to do with what they consider as knowledge on Learning
Organisations. What can I say to refute them? Learning is not about
refutations. Learning is about "painting rich pictures" -- even if we have
to include a refutation from time to time.

Knowledge is a whole. Knowledge of the LO is not a whole, but part of a
whole. Understanding concerns the whole of at least knowledge and not a
mere part of knowledge. If a "LO" means that we all have to be content
with struggling with a mere part of knowledge, then I am not pleased with
the results of this "LO". By Ricks definition of a LO this "LO" does not
qualify as a LO should I be a member of it. In other words, any
organisation of which some members condone the fragmentation of knowledge
cannot qualify as a LO. Furthermore, it will never emerge into a LO, even
should its members claim a zillion times or more that it is a LO. Should I
join in such claims an become part of this "LO"? Would you do it? Why?

With care and best wishes


At de Lange <> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa

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