The Distortion of Ideas LO23000

Fred Nickols (
Tue, 26 Oct 1999 03:45:20 -0400

Responding to Roy Greenhalgh in LO22964 --

In response to my comment about tacit knowledge not simply being in
someone's head, Roy asks, "Then where is it?"

Well, much of it, especially the reference conditions that allow us to
identify someone, is in the head. But not all. My knowledge of anatomy,
the nervous system, brain functioning and so on is minimal but I'd hazard
a guess that the knowledge or know-how involved in riding a bicycle, for
example, is embedded in part in muscles, joints, striated muscles, etc.
In a way, it's like the knowledge that is said to be embedded in
organizational processes.

Take a freshly redesigned or reengineered organizational process. We can
look at its representation in flowcharts, etc, and understand it in part.
We can walk the flow and understand it even better. We can talk with
people who, like knowledge, are embedded in the process, and come to know
it still better. But, chances are, we will never know why the process is
the way it is. The designers made some decisions at some points and we
will never know the factors they considered, the options entertained, or a
host of other factors that involved the knowledge of the designers. Based
on my own experience, I'm not sure they could articulate them all either.

My point about tacit knowledge wasn't so much about it not being in the
head as it was that treating tacit knowledge as though it were simply
unarticulated knowledge is a mistake and betrays a lack of understanding
of just what tacit knowledge is and, more important, how to deal with it.
We can and do teach and train people (and they learn how) to recognize
faces (and interpret intelligence photos) and to ride bicycles. However,
articulating the knowledge involved is an altogether different matter.

Roy also asks:
>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)?

I think it's "in your head," so to speak, a stored image or what William
Powers would call "a reference signal." BTW, if you haven't read it, you
might find his book, Behavior: The Control of Perception," a useful


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

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