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Tag Archives: Taxonomy

For My Eyes Also (Part 5)

Tacit Knowledge

There is one further dimension of knowledge which needs to be discussed, and that is the concept of tacit knowledge. Tacit knowledge is knowledge which cannot be put into words. Despite the numerous definitions, and the apparent disagreement of what exactly Knowledge Management is, there appears to be a great deal of agreement on the type of knowledge which presents the greatest amount of potential benefit to a business.

IBM states the issue thus, “. . .lots of valuable knowledge ‘falls through the cracks’ within business organizations, never finding its way into databases, process diagrams, or corporate libraries. As a consequence, much of what the firm ‘knows’ remains unknown or inaccessible to those who need it. Such knowledge is present within the organization, but it remains hidden, unspoken, tacit. In business organizations, this hidden or tacit knowledge takes one of two forms: 1) knowledge embodied in people and social networks, 2) knowledge embedded in the processes and products that people create.”[1]

Tacit knowledge, therefore, represents at once both the most important type of knowledge and the least accessible form of knowledge. It is invaluable in efficiently carrying on the activities of an organization, yet is exceedingly difficult to harness in any meaningful fashion. Even when an organization is able to somehow chronicle the experience of its employees, it does not follow that it will be capable of passing that knowledge on in a manner that is both easily accessible and effortlessly assimilable. Two examples which come to mind from the organization of which I am a part are welding and scheduling.

Welding of exotic metals, especially for components which will be used in manned space flight and are, therefore, subject to the most stringent specifications, is composed of both explicit elements and tacit elements. While the former (the explicit elements) may be capable of precise, scientific expression, the latter of these are similar to art. It is not uncommon to find that a welder has retired and, suddenly, the company is without a person who can reliably perform a critical weld. Immediately, the company finds itself in a position where it must either allot a far greater amount of time to accomplishing the weld, or attempt to lure the retired welder back to perform the weld or to teach a younger welder how to do so.

The second example involves the scheduling of complex, time-phased activities which include the procurement, manufacture, inspection, and testing of literally thousands of items used in the manufacture of rocket engines. This task was performed for years by groups of individuals using hand-drawn Gantt charts. It is now being performed by individuals using a combination of mainframe software (e.g. MRPII, OPT21) and PC-based, standalone software (e.g. Microsoft Project98, Advanced Management Solutions’ RealTime Projects). Experience is showing that the earlier, more labor-intensive methods were, against all logic, accomplished with greater accuracy and reliability.

These two problems point to the necessity of Rocketdyne’s utilizing one of the basic elements of Knowledge Management, that of acquiring, retaining, and disseminating the tacit knowledge, gained through years of experience, of its workforce. This is not the same as simply cataloguing items such as tools used, temperatures achieved, lead time per component, and supplier on-time reliability, nor even placing all this information within easy reach through the company intranet.

Inherent in the definition of tacit knowledge is its ephemeral nature, the difficulty of conveying things which are understood, at times, only subconsciously or of which people are only vaguely aware. This, then, is probably one of the most difficult tasks faced by any organization, given our current state of development in the field of Knowledge Management.


[1] Working With Tacit Knowledge. Horvath, Joseph A., Ph.D. IBM

     <http://www-4.ibm.com/software/data/knowledge/reference.html> (undated; accessed October 28, 2000)

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Are You Comfortable With Being Social?

A Child's Trust

Trust. Catch Some!

Funny thing about blogging. Unless someone takes the time to comment, or they subscribe, there’s no way to know who is reading and what interests them. There are lots of tools to figure out where traffic comes from, including a list of the search terms that brought people to my site, but it really doesn’t help me understand as thoroughly as I’d like which of my posts strikes a chord

On the other hand, I’ve been testing the waters with a couple of different styles and I’m working on changing voice as well. So, I’m mostly writing to say what I have to say and it’s kind of like “damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead” . . . “let the chips fall where they may”. That isn’t to say I don’t care. I do. What it does say, though, is I’m not sure who will be interested in what I’m sharing today.

My history with, and interest in, Enterprise 2.0 (now mostly referred to as “Social Business“) has brought me a lot of “friends” I would not otherwise have encountered. When I say “friends” I am referring to people, some of whom I have never met in person, and some of whom I’ve only actually seen once in my life. The person who gave the presentation that appears below is one of the latter, though we’ve communicated in various ways in the past nearly two years.

I first met him at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston in June of 2010. I didn’t realize it at the time, but later discovered he coined what had become one of my favorite words – folksonomy. I had been arguing for some time that we (Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, where I was working) should concentrate less on a formal taxonomy for our explicit knowledge artifacts (meaning paper reports and electronic files) and go with tagging, which would create a useful folksonomy. Actually, I was arguing at the time for developing a hybrid, i.e. providing a “recommended” set of tags, allowing leeway in using them and creating new ones, and occasionally “culling” the list to get rid of the less useful tags while retaining the most useful ones for later use.

At any rate, Thomas has become a valuable source of understanding. I appreciate his insights and only wish I was in a position to attend more conferences and the kinds of presentations from which I can learn other viewpoints about the use of social media, especially for business. While I have some reasonably well-developed concepts and a fairly good understanding, there are so many areas where others have far more experience than I, especially when it comes to the information technology (including IA, Information Architecture) aspects of how it affects people and their relationships.

Below I’ve embedded the presentation Thomas gave at a recent conference on IA, which he just uploaded to Slideshare. Since he uses the same philosophy of presenting that I and many others do, i.e. avoid bullet points wherever humanly possible, use lots of interesting graphics, and talk your butt off, I can’t be quite certain I understand the point(s) behind every slide, but I think I get his drift. In fact, I love the concept of “Social Comfort” as I spent many years working to alleviate the discomfort so many of my colleagues seemed to feel back in the day. I also like his idea of avoiding use of the word “Trust” and – instead – substitute related words that evoke a feeling of trust, e.g. dependable, believable, treasured, consistent, honest, etc.

Going back to my use of the word “friends” for people I don’t really know or, at least, have never met in person. I consider them friends precisely because over time they have shown themselves to be dependable, consistent, honest, etc. That is, I’ve come to trust them based on numerous instances of conversation or reading something they’ve chosen to share not only with me, but with the entire online community. People who are unworthy of our trust don’t stick their necks out very often . . . if at all. The people I consider friends do so repeatedly, which is something I cherish.

I hope you can glean something useful from Thomas’s presentation. I believe I have. Feel free to comment here or to go to Slideshare and comment directly to Thomas if there’s something you don’t get or would like to discuss with him further.

Trust photo by mikebaird


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