Tacit knowledge: philosophic roots and role in KM

Abstract

Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to develop and clarify a central concept of knowledge management, tacit knowledge.

Design/methodology/approach – The paper investigates the philosophical roots of the concept of tacit knowledge and compares its core elements with current uses of the concept in contemporary knowledge management research. Different interpretations of the concept are identified, analyzed and clarified. A more explanatory and useful interpretation is developed and applied to current issues in knowledge management. A new KM implementation model is described based on a fuller understanding of the tacit/explicit distinction. Findings – The main conclusion of the paper is that the concept of tacit knowledge as it appears in the literature is vague and ambiguous. This vagueness creates confusion that, in turn, makes developing and implementing KM strategies more difficult. However, by understanding the philosophic roots of the concept of tacit knowledge it becomes possible to develop a clearer and more useful interpretation of the concept that can be used to guide KM implementations.

Practical implications – A new KM implementation model is described based on the analytical findings of the paper. An implied model based on a confused understanding of the tacit/explicit distinction is identified and rejected.

Originality/value – The paper clarifies and develops one of the most important concepts in KM. It provides a fuller description of its role in KM and disentangles it from related but distinct concepts. The paper reframes the tacit/explicit distinction and provides a set of guiding principles to be used by researchers and managers. 

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