Capturing Implicit (Tacit) Knowledge from the Factory Floor

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An organization has endless information that needs to be stored somewhere. Just think of notes, procedures, and implicit knowledge. Employees generate an enormous amount of knowledge during their careers.

The problem is that companies do not know how to store all the information efficiently. Companies also have to deal with different types of knowledge. What is the difference between implicit, tacit, and explicit knowledge?

If you know how to categorize and document knowledge, you can ensure that it’s accessible and useful to every team member.

Implicit Vs. Explicit Knowledge

A few definitions

Explicit knowledge: this knowledge is easily written down and shared in the form of documents or reports.

Implicit knowledge: this knowledge is gained without awareness of learning.

Tacit knowledge: this knowledge is gained from personal experience.

What is Implicit Knowledge?

Implicit knowledge is explicit knowledge applied in practice. Implicit knowledge occurs throughout the organization. For example, ask an operator how to perform a task in a specific process. You will notice that this leads to a conversation about the various options for performing the task, which leads to a thoughtful process for determining the best course of action.

It’s the knowledge-based partly on experience and partly on intuition that is used implicitly when assessing a situation. Implicit knowledge is personal and harder to share with others. It involves feeling, subjective insights, skills, and intuition-based learnings. It’s in people’s heads and is also called tacit or tribal knowledge. Companies have a hard time capturing implicit knowledge because it’s knowledge gained from other people’s experiences and lessons.

What is Explicit Knowledge?

Explicit knowledge is observable. It’s the knowledge that has been expressed or stored, and is person-independent. It contains essential information and data and is formed independently of people, as processes and information are documented over time. Take standardized procedures and safety protocols, for example, these must be documented consistently and are critical to companies. This knowledge can be easily stored and can also be easily exchanged between team members because it exists in the form of reports and general documents.

Make implicit knowledge actionable

Implicit knowledge includes everything we have learned through experience. It’s much more difficult to pass on this type of knowledge, because it’s bearer often does not even know what skills he possesses – for example, when an operator “feels” which tactic will give him the desired result. For this skill to be passed on and used by others, implicit knowledge must be transformed into explicit knowledge. This is not easy and requires an intensive interpersonal exchange, which can be done using software, for example. In this way, implicit knowledge is always available to others.

If organizations want to take advantage of the existing know-how potential then they need to turn implicit into explicit knowledge.

We agree, implicit knowledge is a key resource for innovation and continued process optimization. But mainly to solve complex tasks with implicit knowledge. When this knowledge is no longer just in the head of a single employee but can be used across teams, we are dealing with an efficient company. It’s therefore important that implicit knowledge becomes usable and you can only do that by using the right tools.

Converting Implicit Knowledge to Explicit

So how do you make implicit knowledge explicit? The idea is to discover and understand implicit knowledge and then document it in order to embed in-house knowledge and insights within the organization.

By making implicit knowledge accessible, the entire team can call upon it. If employees have access to the same know-how, then new employees can easily make use of it. They have access, to the knowledge of someone who has been working within the company for years. The experience of technical experts and anciens is spread throughout the company.

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