The Distortion of Ideas LO22981

Mon, 25 Oct 1999 13:50:25 +530

Replying to LO22949 --

Related to: The Distortion of Ideas LO22949

The comment on how 'tacit knowledge' is defined (by Fred):

> Polanyi used the term to refer to the things we know that we can't
> articulate (e.g., how we recognize a particular person's face). By
> definition, then, tacit knowledge is knowledge that can't be
> articulated. Yet, I regularly see tacit knowledge defined simply
> as "knowledge that is in people's heads." That is dead wrong.

Invited the following question and observations (by Roy):

> Then where is it?
> I clearly CAN recognize my kids as they walk across the school yard. I
> can describe facial and physical features ... and then I run out of
> language. I admit I cannot articulate what it is that allows me to
> recognize them.
> But I can recognise them .. and I do!
> Where is this image of the faces of my kids held that I am trying to map
> onto (if that is what I'm doing)?

'If that is what I am doing': That was a crucial issue for Polanyi. One
gets the impression from Polanyi's work that a good deal of what we accept
as knowledge, is not representational at all. There is some other (more
efficient? more effective? less computational?) 'knowledge management' in
the human mind (or the human body?).

If researchers become interested in contributing to this type of knowledge
(as opposed to representational forms of knowledge) what should they do?
Well, I found some examples of such alternative (non-classical?) research.
For example:

Reason, P. (Ed.) (1988). Human Inquiry in Action: Developments in
New Paradigm Research, Sage, London.

Zeeuw, G. de (1992). Soft Knowledge Accumulation, or the Rise of
Competence. Systems Practice, 5, 2. pp. 193-214. [Also see,
Zeeuw, G. de (1993). Increased Competence as a Process of
Surviving in Shared Information Spaces. Systems Practice, 6, 2.
pp. 155-172.]

> Incidentally Max Boisot, in "Knowledge Assets" ISBN 0-19-829086-1 pp 38
> writes " ... complexity absorption leads to the steady accumulation of
> tacit, experiential knowledge inside an organization. Although not
> necessarily ineffable, such knowledge can only be articulated and
> communicated with difficulty. It therefore tends to remain locked up in
> the heads of it possessors."
> Roy Greenhalgh

Incidentally, De Zeeuw's notion of 'shared information space' seems
somewhat diferent from the notion of 'information space' of Max Boisot.

There seems to be a difficulty in having a research-like conversation
about 'tacit knowledge'. We might try to build explicit knowledge about
'tacit knowledge' by codifying its nature, location, validation, ...Or we
might identifying the 'forms of life' (e.g., forms of interaction in a
'shared information space') that produce such knowledge. In the former
route, we seeks to improve our (explicit) understanding of tacit
knowledge. In the latter route, we try to produce some new tacit knowledge
(or extend the existing tacit knowledge).

One might also extend Polanyi's notion to include the 'tacit knowledge'
held in collectives and compare it to the notion of 'knowledge held in
common with others' by Shotter. This kind of extension makes way for
research in the area of 'orgaisational learning'.



Prof. D. P. Dash
Xavier Institute of Management
Bhubaneswar 751013



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