Organizational Learning & Knowledge Management LO23900

From: Fred Nickols (nickols@WORLDNET.ATT.NET)
Date: 02/05/00

Replying to Robert Bacal in LO23883 --

>On 2 Feb 00, at 6:24, Fred Nickols wrote:
> > Let's use two common examples of tacit knowledge: recognizing a face and
> > riding a bicycle. I'll agree that we can articulate or describe certain
> > features of someone's face and we can describe what it's like to ride a
> > bicycle. However, that knowledge is typically inadequate in terms of
> > transferring our capability to someone else. What we've captured in our
> > descriptions is that which can be articulated. That which can't be
> > articulated is, by definition, tacit knowledge. So, I don't agree with
> > you when you say "it would be incorrect to say that tacit knowledge can't
> > be made explicit." Why? Because of the very statement by Polanyi that
> > Nonaka quoted.
>This is all very interesting, although it's again wandering around in the
>desert looking to the dessert in all the wrong places. Apply THE test. If
>I can teach someone to recognize a face or ride a bicycle, using ONLY
>words, then I have succeeded in transfering my tacit knowledge to another.
>The only way I could possibly do that with the face is to describe the
>features, etc.

"If" is a very big word.

>I CAN teach you to pick me out of a crowd, using symbolic instruction. I
>may not be able to do that completely with the bicycle (but perhaps it's

I am not sure what you mean by "symbolic instruction" but I am confident
that I, too, can develop in others the ability to pick selected others out
of a crowd. Using photographs or videos or any number of other display
devices coupled with the good old fashioned gesture of pointing will get
the job done. I will further concede that there are some faces with
sufficiently unusual characteristics that words alone could probably
suffice to develop in others the ability to pick that face out of crowd
made up of a random sample of people (moreover, doing so will further
develop the ability to recognize that person). However, I don't believe
words alone will initially enable someone to pick that person out of an
array of faces with similar features. I think such fine discriminations
evade articulation.

>You can cycle round and round with definitions and concepts (which I
>really like), but it's all just fun stuff with not a lot of meaning. Try
>applying real world tests to definitions and ideas and see what happens.
>No what I can't seem to teach people is how to take concepts, and make
>them come alive by nailing them the direct real world.

Maybe that's an instance of our inability to articulate tacit knowledge,

One more point. I fuss with words a lot because they shape our thinking
and often in ways that we aren't fully aware of. In the text above, for
example, you and I both refer to "transferring" -- I to capability and you
to tacit knowledge. I know we all talk that way but I also think it is
not quite accurate. It's reminiscent of the old
open-the-head-and-pour-in-knowledge approach to education and training,
the learner as a vessel to be filled. So, I think in the recognition
example above that we can do some things that will facilitate or aid in
the development of the capability of someone else to engage in some
behavior that most folks would agree entails tacit knowledge but I don't
think we actually transfer it. Do you?


Fred Nickols The Distance Consulting Company "Assistance at A Distance" (609) 490-0095

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