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Demystifying Tacit Knowledge. Muhammad Adeel Zaffar. Overview. What is a Knowledge Management System? What is Knowledge? What is Tacit/Implicit Knowledge? How Important is Tacit Knowledge to a KMS? Operationalizing Tacit Knowledge Tacit Knowledge and Organizational Performance

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muhammad adeel zaffar

Demystifying Tacit Knowledge

Muhammad Adeel Zaffar

  • What is a Knowledge Management System?
  • What is Knowledge?
  • What is Tacit/Implicit Knowledge?
  • How Important is Tacit Knowledge to a KMS?
  • Operationalizing Tacit Knowledge
  • Tacit Knowledge and Organizational Performance
  • Transferring Tacit Knowledge
  • Concluding Remarks
what is a knowledge management system
What is a Knowledge Management System?
  • What is it?*
    • An effort to increase useful knowledge in the organization
    • Systematic process for acquiring, creating, integrating, sharing, using and collaborating on information, insights, and experiences to achieve organizational goals
  • What’s the goal?
    • . . . to improve the process of creating, storing, retrieving, transferring, and applying knowledge (Keane and Mason, 2006)
what is knowledge
What is Knowledge?
  • The KM literature discusses
    • Explicit and Tacit knowledge
    • Other classifications?*
  • What is explicit and what is tacit?
    • knowledge that we can express and knowledge that is outside of such capabilities (Styhre, 2004)
  • Knowing what, how, why, who (Swart and Powell, 2006)
what is tacit implicit knowledge
What is Tacit/Implicit Knowledge?
  • The idea was first formally introduced by Polanyi in 1958 (Styhre, 2004)
    • That which escapes representations and measurement but still matters
  • Other descriptions (Ambrosini and Bowman, 2001)
    • Difficult to formalize
    • Practical
    • Personal knowledge
    • Context specific
  • Four categories of tacit knowledge (Lubit, 2001)
    • Hard to pin down skills (know-how)
    • Mental models
    • Ways of approaching problems
    • Organizational routines
what is tacit implicit knowledge1
What is Tacit/Implicit Knowledge?
  • Problem of demarcation
    • Both ‘types’ are intertwined
  • So is Tacit the ‘residual’ or what ‘remains’ outside of articulation?
    • Martz and Shepherd’s (2003) definition: “The amount of implicit learning in an experience is the change the experience produces in an individual’s ability to relate explicit knowledge about a topic”
what is tacit implicit knowledge2
What is Tacit/Implicit Knowledge?
  • Is it a ‘type’ or a ‘dimension’? (Keane and Mason, 2006)
  • Do we need to ‘convert’ it into explicit knowledge?
how important is tacit knowledge to a kms
How important is Tacit Knowledge to a KMS?
  • Related to people and context therefore can be lost in case of employee turnover
  • Executive support system is more valued if it is just not purely analytical (Bradley et al, 2006)
operationalizing tacit knowledge
Operationalizing Tacit Knowledge
  • It is elusive (Stenmark, 2000)
    • Sometimes we ourselves are not fully aware of it
    • There are no incentives to make this knowledge ‘explicit’ at an individual level
    • There is a potential risk of losing power by making it explicit
operationalizing tacit knowledge1
Operationalizing Tacit Knowledge
  • Surveys and Structured Interviews?
  • Cognitive maps
    • Representation of an individual’s personal knowledge and experience
    • One such map is a ‘causal map’
      • Handouts
operationalizing tacit knowledge2
Operationalizing Tacit Knowledge
  • Elements of expert knowledge
    • Cognitive (individual’s viewpoints, beliefs)
    • Technical (context specific skills and abilities)
  • Traditionally, KMS have focused on capturing the cognitive processing of an expert to generate ‘rules’ for a computer
operationalizing tacit knowledge3
Operationalizing Tacit Knowledge
  • The traditional approaches have tried to convert all forms of knowledge into explicit knowledge before representing how the knowledge typology functions as a system
    • Knowledge is lost in the codification process
    • Who should be involved in codifying knowledge?
    • Who plays the more dominant role in this process of codification?
  • Need to be aware of the context of the knowledge
  • Example: Knowledge Maps do not capture . . .
tacit knowledge and organizational performance
Tacit Knowledge and Organizational Performance
  • How is it linked to gaining sustained competitive advantage?
    • Transient competitive advantage (Lubit, 2001)
transferring tacit knowledge
Transferring Tacit Knowledge
  • Issues (Desouza, 2003)
    • Lack of commitment of top management to sharing organizational knowledge and absence of role models who are at the forefront of such knowledge sharing endeavors
    • Lack of communication of vision and scope of a knowledge-sharing activity
transferring tacit knowledge1
Transferring Tacit Knowledge
  • Recommendations (Lubit, 2001; Desouza, 2003)
    • Coaching arrangements with experts and coaches
      • Teach managers how to coach
      • Include this in their performance measures
      • Hold structured group discussions
    • Networking and work groups
      • Brainstorming
      • Teamwork
    • Documenting ‘learning histories’
      • Written narratives of critical events in a company e.g. some innovation, product launch etc.
    • Making tacit knowledge more explicit???
    • Let nature take its course
concluding remarks
Concluding Remarks
  • There appears to be a general consensus that tacit knowledge is not something which you can acquire through mere exposure to explicit knowledge
  • If it is indeed important for competitive advantage, do you really want to make it that explicit?
  • How can your organization take advantage of it if it only resides within a few people?
  • Is having a cutting-edge IT solution for your knowledge management needs a sufficient condition for successful knowledge management?
  • Have informal and emergent structures to facilitate exchange
future research
Future Research
  • My current understanding of the topic is limited however, I believe that the following question needs to addressed and put to rest
    • Is it necessary to have a formal set of rules to codify tacit knowledge?

Ambrosini, V. and Bowman, C. (2001) Tacit knowledge: Some suggestions for operationalizations, Journal of Management Studies, 38(6), 811-829

Bradley, J. H., Paul, R. and Seeman, E. (2006) Analyzing the structure of expert knowledge, Information and Management, 43, 77-91

Desouza, K. C. (2003) Facilitating Tacit Knowledge Exchange, Communications of the ACM, 46(6), 55-88

Keane, B. T. and Mason, R. M. (2006) On the Nature of Knowledge: Rethinking Popular Assumptions, Proceedings of the 39th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences

Lubit, R. (2001) Tacit Knowledge and Knowledge Management: The Keys to Sustainable Competitive Advantage, Organizational Dynamics, 29(4), 164-178

Martz, W. B. and Shepherd, M. M. (2003) Testing for the Transfer of Tact Knowledge: Making case for Implicit learning, Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education, 1(1), 41-56

Stenmark, D. (2000) Leveraging Tacit Organizational Knowledge, Journal of Management Information Systems, 17(3), 9-24

Styhre, A. (2004) Rethinking Knowledge: A Bergsonian Critique of the Notion of Tacit Knowledge, British Journal of Management, 15, 177-188

Swart, J. and Powell, P. H. (2006) Men and measures: capturing knowledge requirements in firms through qualitative system modelling, Journal of the Operational Research Society, 57, 10-21

* Class Notes, Dr. Stylianou’s slides on Fundamentals of Knowledge Management