Goals, Objectives & Three Levels of Knowing LO29231

From: AM de Lange (amdelange@postino.up.ac.za)
Date: 09/25/02

Replying to LO29200 --

Dear Organlearners,

Fred Nickols <nickols@safe-t.net> writes at the very end of his

>Where are the flaws or even the huge holes in my thinking?

Earlier in the contribution he wrote:

>While pondering the role that explicit goals and objectives
>play in our lives at work, it occurred to me that those three
>types of knowledge correspond to three levels of knowing
>and that, further, goals and objectives exist at all three levels
>of knowing.

Greetings dear Fred,

It seems that we shall differ on tacit knowing for a long time to come.
Michael Polanyi defined it as "we know more than we can tell". He did not
define it as "we even know what we never can tell". We also cannot infer
logically from "we know more than we can tell" that "we even know what we
never can tell". However, logic is something we can tell about so that
tacit knowing is outside the domain of logic. So we will have to call it a
day rather than "huge holes" in your thinking ;-)

I myself think that Polanyi meant something very important when he
wrote that the tacit DIMENSION has a "from-to" structure. Perhaps
he thought of the "from" and "to" parts as levels, but he did not
articulate it as such. If that is the case, then i will have to rename the
sequence in my understanding of the levels of knowing, namely
   experential knowing
   tacit knowing
   formal knowing
   sapient knowing
   experential knowing
   implicit knowing
   formal knowing
   sapient knowing
where the first two form the tacit dimension of knowing. I would not
like to call the third level "explicit knowing" since it is directly related
to the capacity to FORMalise knowledge into inFORMation.

Polanyi offered riding a bicycle as an example of tacit knowing. I can
offer roler skating as a counter example. My dear wife and I tried it when
still as students. Landing on the butt was common. But we told each other
what to do or avoid doing not to land on the butt. With this team learning
we eventually managed to skate effortlessly.

Polanyi could have offered walking as another example. I once had to cross
a seemingly dry river bed in a desert. The region had an unexpected
downpour a few days ago. I was about five metres on that bed when suddenly
I slipped and fell on my back. The surface was dry, but underneath the
silt was as slippery as soap. I wanted to get up, but fell again. The
first couple of minutes I found it hilarious, me not being able to get up
and walk. But then I realised how precarious the situation was. I had
vivid images of a skeleton half coered in silt. I still remember how I had
to contemplate every movement and evaluate it afterwards, speaking loudly
to myself so as not to fell into insane fear. I did managed to cross that
river bed, but covered completely by silt from head to toes. I was
thinking of Polanyi while it happened. Would we have had a dialogue

>From there, it dawned on me that management, in its
>quest to manage by objectives (or at least to use explicit,
>specific objectives as a management tool) is neglecting two
>other important "levels" where objectives exist; namely, the
>implicit and the tacit.

Fred, I can understand your concern. When anyone who wants to manage by
objectives is ignorant to the tacit dimension of knowing, that person will
sooner or later formulate objectives which will interfere destructively
with the tacit dimension of knowing. I have seen it often happen in
education and it usually causes severe tension in any learner which has
not yet fallen victim to rote learning.

However, this will not necessarily happen when the person who formulates
the objectives is conscious of the tacit dimension and how it is
organised. Polanyi wrote that it has a "from-to" structure. Almost two
centuries ago Goethe wrote that knowledge is preceded by a diversity of
experiences out of which follows a "Steigerung" in thinking. (This
"Steigerung" can be thought as a "fire work display" in thinking.) In
these "tacit senstive" objectives the person who has to follow them may
then recognise what to do in terms of the tacit dimension. Is this
possible? Allow me to explain it within context, making it somewhat

I often discover that the many learning problems of students stem from one
thing, namely their ignorance of having a tacit dimension in their
knowing. Obviously, I had to make sure that they have some tacit knowing
and that they failed to articulate it. (You would say that they failed to
articulate their implicit knowing since they cannot ever articulate their
tacit knowing ;-) My task is then to make them aware of this tacit

I myself will never, never tell a student that he/she knows more than
he/she can tell. This is rote learning par excellence. What I do is to
question the student's knowing, carefully using only information which the
student supplies and not any coming from myself. After answering several
questions, that student answers a question which clearly demonstrates that
he/she knew something, but which he/she could not tell before. This
crucial answer often surprises the student. I specifically ask the student
whether I have supplied in any way extra information to the answer. After
the student admitted that all answers came from him/herself, I articulate
the student's emerging awareness with the name "tacit knowing".

I must admit two things (which I do not admit to the students at that
stage because they will not appreciate it). Firstly, this mode of
questioning is utterly useless unless I get the notion that the student
knew something which he/she could not tell. I often think of it that I
have to read the student's tacit knowing "between the lines". When
"between the lines" is a blank to me, my questioning fails utterly.

Secondly, my questioning is not as innocent as it seems to be. Although I
use only information supplied by the student, my pattern of questions
brings new form to such information. In other words, it is I who arrange
such information contextually and not the student. Thus only by my
questioning the student is led to the insight that he/she knows something
which he/she could not tell before. This is an intricate exercise in the
creative essentiality sureness ("identity-context"). The student supplies
the "identity" freely, but I have to probe the student for its "context".

I have demonstrated this mode of questioning to several people. Most of
them were amazed. The few who know the work of Carl Rogers, the
psychologist, exclaimed to me that they finally understood what he was
getting at when I draw their attention to his work. It is great pity that
Rogers and Polanyi never got into a dialogue, working out the whole
between them.

Once I get the student so far as to admit on own experiences that he/she
knows more than he/she can tell, the task is almost completed. The last
step is to bring the student to the crucial insight that although he/she
recognises his/her own tacit knowing in terms of another person's
articulations, it is far away from articulating self such an
understanding. Knowing something to the level of articulating it self as
information and recognising it in articulated information by someone else
are completely different processes. The difference is that of authentic
learning to rote learning.

The most extraordinary thing is that once a person realised that he/she
knows more than he/she can tell, that person often tells me "this is the
first time I articulate what I know, please bear patience with me". I feel
very sad that this person can say this only to me because I will
understand, but not in general. For me the act of telling the tacit
knowing the first time is divine, but for others it seems to be profane
when done not perfectly the first time. Any bifurcation resulting in an
emergence rather an immergence is divine.

The same happens with objectives. A person who knows that the formulated
objectives also affect his/her tacit dimension of knowing, will ask for
patience to attend to the tacit dimension before complying fully to these
objectives. But a person who is ignorant to his/her tacit dimension, will
think with resentment of the person (also ignorant to the tacit dimension)
who formulated the objectives as unreasonable and unjust.

My greatest agony here in South Africa is that our nation is vastly
ignorant to tacit knowing. I have to convince people one by one (through
their own emergent learning as explained above) that tacit knowing is
crucial to their understanding. How can one man convince forty million
people that tacit knowing is requisite to deep knowledge?

For example, we have eleven official languages here. But in practise
English is preferred above all other languages. How can anybody articulate
his/her tacit knowing in any language other than that which he/she has
experienced to do so -- his/her mother tongue? Only when the articulation
of tacit knowing (or your implicit knowing ;-) in the mother tongue has
happened, it can be done in other languages too.

My mother tongue is not English and my tacit thinking do not become
articulated in English in the first place. All the objectives in the world
in English will not strike me as much as one single objective formulated
in Afrikaans. My transition from tacit knowing to
articulated/formal/explicit knowing happens primarily in terms of my
mother tongue Afrikaans. When all languages fail, my mother tongue
prevails. Long live the mother tongue of ebery person!

Fred, thank you for exploring the intricacies of "we know more than we can
tell" and offering your own understanding in the domain of imperatives
(objectives, goals and mission). If only our education faculties would get
wise to tacit knowing, they would have advanced learning so much more. It
is the same with managing organisations. Organisational learning which
does not accomodate the tacit dimension of individual learners degenerates
soon into "organisational coersion".

Last Friday I had a long discussion with a colleague from a different
department who is near breaking point because of such "organisational
coersion". I first had to make him aware through emergent learning to the
tacit dimension. I then explained to him what causes it. Hopefully he will
now calm down and steer a course through a minefield of human conflicts in
that department.
With care and best wishes


At de Lange <amdelange@postino.up.ac.za> 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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